By Murray Feist, M.Sc., P.Ag., Provincial Livestock Specialist, Livestock Branch; and Jenifer Heyden, M.Sc., P.Ag., Livestock & Feed Extension Specialist, Regional Services Branch
Back-to-back years of cool springs and dry summers have reduced feed stockpiles and increased pressure on pasture and hay land. The resulting adverse growing conditions drive up the cost of forage and force producers to look at alternative feed and management options for winter, including screenings, salvage crops and use of lower-quality forages such as straw.
Winter rations will utilize a variety of alternative feed sources. High forage prices and reduced supply will force the use of cereal grains, screenings and other byproducts such as canola meal and dried distiller grains to boost protein and energy levels. Increasing the protein provides an enriched opportunity for rumen bacteria to be more efficient in breaking down and degrading forage fibre. Salvage cereal, legume or oilseed crops may be used where available; later-seeded cereals can be used for grazing (standing corn) or swath grazing in the fall and winter. Producers should be aware that if they graze canola (either as salvage crop or regrowth) or feed a canola or dried distiller grain byproduct (and/or kochia bales), the sulfur content of the feed can be high and should be tested.
When considering the use of straw, either for stubble grazing or baled for feed, rations must be supplemented with protein and energy from other forages or grains and fortified with minerals and vitamin supplements. Producers should be vigilant, as rations designed around using straw as a base forage should include a supplemental source of Vitamin A to prevent deficiencies.
Bear in mind that byproducts such as cereal or pulse screenings, used as supplemental feed for energy or partial forage replacement for ruminants, come in varying degrees of purity and fibre content, along with some concerns for weed seed level and fusarium or ergot contamination. Screenings and stockpiled products should be examined and tested for toxins when appropriate.
Mineral and vitamin supplementation cannot be overlooked. In dry years, a mineral or vitamin deficiency will manifest much more quickly and visibly than in years with more adequate moisture, forage and grazing conditions. It is more important than ever to provide adequate mineral and vitamin supplements to young females (replacements or first-time mothers) or when livestock are consuming poor-quality feeds during the high-production periods of late trimester and lactation, growth during backgrounding and finishing, and flushing for breeding.
You have to be a bit more creative to manage your feeding programs when faced with a dry pasture, grazing and haying seasons, and continually explore new options. Protein and energy supplementation will be essential if feed stocks are low or if you are utilizing poor-quality forages as the base of your winter rations. Be aware of mineral content in salvage crops to prevent issues with sulphate toxicity and/or mineral deficiencies.
The ministry's Livestock & Feed Specialists can help you develop an optimal feeding program for your situation. For more information, please contact your local Livestock & Feed Specialist or call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre general inquiry line at 1-866-457-2377.
This article was original published in Agriview.