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Finding Alternative Supplements in Fluctuating Markets

By Janelle Smith, AAg, Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist, Tisdale

February 2021

Pulses and their byproducts can be a protein and energy source for cattle
Pulses and their byproducts can be a
protein and energy source for cattle

Cold winter months may force many producers to purchase a supplemental protein and/or energy concentrate for their animals. Feed barley markets have been unusually high in recent months and are not expected to retreat much until the next crop. You may be wondering what alternatives are out there for supplementation and how they stack up against feed barley.

Cereals such as oat, triticale and rye grain are all viable energy sources that are currently cheaper than barley. Rye and triticale are susceptible to ergot infestation so it is best to mix them with another grain source, limit diet inclusion and test for the presence of ergot bodies through Prairie Diagnostic Services in Saskatoon.

Distiller's grains are very palatable and an excellent source of protein and energy that can improve feed efficiency. However, due to low ethanol demand, their supply has tightened and prices are very high. Grain screenings are a feasible alternative to grain, as they are usually price-competitive as a byproduct. They contain a mixture of grain, weed seeds, chaff hulls and can be a dusty product if not processed. Screenings should be feed tested and monitored for toxins as they are a highly-variable product. Cereal screenings will be about 75 per cent of the feed value of whole barley. Pulse screenings will contain higher protein than cereal screenings and are a viable energy source. Canola screenings are a high energy supplement, but diet inclusion should be monitored for fat levels and processing is recommended. For more detailed information on alternative feeds, visit the Beef Cattle Research Council's website.

Processed feeds can be produced from any combination of grain, screenings and additives. Vitamins and minerals can be included in a processed feed. Processing such as pelleting can increase feed efficiency and palatability. A list of feed mills around the province who can produce these products is found on our Processed Feeds - Company Listing page.

Price point will ultimately determine the best alternative energy source for your cattle. It is important to compare feeds based on their energy and protein costs. If you are supplementing for energy, comparing potential feeds in terms of the dollars per unit of energy or total digestible nutrients (TDN) can tell you which provides more bang for your buck. It is extremely important to conduct feed tests on anything you feed to your cattle to ensure you and your nutritionist are confident in what you are feeding. You can use an ingredient cost calculator such as the FeedPlan Feed Ingredient Cost Calculator on Government of Manitoba's website.

An example of this comparison using the calculator above can be done on barley and a pelleted feed that are both 12 per cent crude protein. If feed barley is $280 per metric tonne and 83 per cent TDN on a dry matter basis, whereas a pelleted feed is $280 per metric tonne and 72 per cent TDN, the cost per unit of energy of the barley is $0.17/lb TDN and the pellet is $0.20/lb TDN. This represents a higher overall cost to supply energy in the pellet. However, other considerations include the price of the pellet including the convenience of supplying vitamins and minerals to ensure adequate intake for your cattle. Comparing both the energy and crude-protein value of a feed can help you make a decision about the true feed value of different commodities.

For more information on this topic, or any other livestock related questions, please contact your local livestock and feed extension specialist or call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377. 

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