Stretching Forage Supplies

Reducing Waste

Some of the biggest losses in the hay industry come during feedout and storage. Storing hay outside can cause large dry matter losses, while precipitation may seem like the cause of spoilage, wicking moisture out of the ground is a major cause of spoilage. After baling hay, if the bales are dry, they should be moved into storage as quickly as possible. Bales of hay need to be stored off of the ground and covered with a tarp or put into hay storage. Allowing bales of hay to remain outside, opens them up to the elements which causes both the leaching of nutrients as well as spoilage. If just 3 inches around the outside of a 5 foot bale is spoiled, then 19% of the dry matter will be lost, and the nutritional value of the remainder of the bale has decreased. Another big area of waste is in feeding systems. Feeding bales of hay on the ground or feeding only once a week, while saving labour, result in high levels of wasted hay. Feeding beef cattle a round bale on the ground causes 40% of the dry matter to be wasted while using a round bale feeder can cut that in half or more. Feeding daily and using efficient bale feeders or feeding to demand can further decrease the amount of wasted hay. The goal in feeding efficiently is to have 5% or less in feed refusals. If hay is in short supply then feeding systems should be re-evaluated to ensure that the hay is being fed as efficiently as possible.

Feeding Grain

An option when hay is in short supply is to limit the amount of hay fed to the cattle and replace the missing nutrients with grain. When comparing nutrients, 1 kg of corn can replace 2 kg of hay in up to 1/3 of the ration. If Barley is available, it has roughly 90% of the energy value of corn while wheat should be valued equal to or slightly higher than corn. Distillers Grain can also be used -as a substitute feed. Distillers Grain is pre-ground and has higher protein content than ground corn and can be an economical feed source. In most cases when feeding grain, cattle will be limit fed, they need to have enough bunk space so all of the cattle can eat at once, otherwise the dominant cows will consume more than their share, putting them at risk of acidosis, bloat and getting fat, while the passive animals will lose body condition. If more than 2 kg (4.5 lb) of grain are being fed, then it should be broken up into multiple feedings per day to prevent acidosis and grain overload. When comparing prices of hay and commodities this year, it seems to be very economical to substitute some grain for hay where inventories are short.

Using Cornstalks and Straw

The use of corn stover or straw for beef cattle can make a good feed source. With Total Digestible Nutrients(TDN) levels in the mid-40's straw can provide a significant amount of energy needs, but it will need to be supplemented with a protein source. The best candidates for feeding straw are mature dry cows in their second trimester, as they have the lowest nutritional requirements. For these animals a diet of straw and quality hay, along with salt and mineral can provide all of their nutritional needs. Straw can also be fed to other groups of animals, either at lower rates or with grain supplementation to ensure that they are getting enough nutrients. The most nutritious straw is oat straw, followed by barley, soybean and wheat. The easiest way to incorporate straw into a diet is through the use of a TMR. This will thoroughly mix the straw and the hay with any grain that is required, however the feed needs to be managed to ensure that the animals are not sorting through the TMR to eat the high quality feed first and leaving the straw until the bunks are almost empty. If the animals are sorting it can cause acidosis, and some cows will get too much energy, while others not enough. Feeding straw and hay in separate bale feeders, tends not to work very well as the cattle will eat all of the hay first and avoid the straw. Feeding hay and straw at alternate feedings can work for producers without a TMR. When alternating feeds, the group size and the amount of feed should balance so that all of the feed is consumed before the next feeding.

Corn stover is nutritious forage for cattle. Half of the energy in a corn plant is in the cob and the other half is in the stalk. Immediately after combining, corn stover may have a TDN as high as 70, however as the season progresses and the cattle eat the more nutritious parts of the plants and nutrients leach out of the stalks, the TDN will drop into the 40's. Corn stover can provide feed well into the fall and winter. When the animals are first put into a field of corn, the field needs to be inspected for grain and if there is a large amount of grain, both spilled and cobs that were not combined, then the animals access to the field may need to be limited. Limited access can be done through strip grazing with an electric fence, or only allowing them in for a certain period each day. While grazing corn stover fecal scores and body condition scores should be monitored to determine when the stover needs additional supplementation. Generally when the husks and leaves have been stripped off of the plants the animals will require additional feed. 1 acre of corn stover can generally provide feed for 1-2 beef cows for 1 month.

Winter Rye or Triticale

Another option for reducing forage requirements is to put the animals out on pasture sooner in the spring. While traditional grasses will not start to grow any earlier, winter rye or triticale can be planted for early season pasture. Winter rye and winter triticale can be planted following corn silage or soybeans through the end of October. Winter rye is a cereal grain crop with early spring growth. It is more winter hardy than winter wheat and produces top growth. Winter triticale is a cross between wheat and rye. In southern Ontario winter rye will be ready to graze around mid-April if it was planted on dry ground. This can provide an opportunity to get the animals out on pasture early in the season and possibly give the permanent pastures some extra rest. Winter rye can also be cut for hay at the boot stage to maximize forage quality and quantity. After cereal rye heads out the nutritional value of the rye drops very quickly. It is typically in boot stage mid-May, which gives the opportunity to double-crop corn, soybean or annual forage. Winter rye should not be confused with Ryegrass. Winter rye is a cereal crop while ryegrass is a forage grass with 3 main species: Perennial ryegrass, Italian ryegrass, and Westerwold (Annual) ryegrass.

The OMAFRA website has additional information on feeding.

For more information:
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