Alternative Feeds for Beef Cattle
Lack of pasture and hay production in many parts of Ontario this summer has resulted in tight hay supplies for winter. However, there are other options for feeding cattle. This article examines some of the possibilities by comparing the value of alternative feeds with hay priced at various levels. Producers can use this information to help make informed decisions regarding whether to buy hay or some combination of alternative feeds. Each proposed ration must be balanced for nutrient content (fibre,energy, protein, minerals, vitamins) to ensure it meets the needs of the cattle it is intended for.
For long term health, cattle should consume at least 0.5 % of their body weight per day as forage (dry matter basis). For example, a 1400 lb cow needs a minimum of 7.7 lbs of hay or 22 lbs of corn silage (as fed basis), along with the concentrate feeds required in their diet.
Table 1 compares alternative fibre sources for feeding value and economic value compared with hay priced at $175/tonne, based on their energy and protein content [Petersen's Equation].
Alternative Fibre Feeds
* 800 lbs as fed wt.
Table 2 gives the breakeven prices for alternative fibre sources compared to buying hay at prices ranging from $25/tonne to $350/tonne, which is equivalent to [1.1 cents/lb to 15.9 cents/lb], and [$9/bale to $127/bale] (800 lb bale).
Corn Stover Grazing
Grazing the corn stover left in the field after grain harvesting may be an option. This would require buying and installing temporary electric fencing, providing a water source and trucking cattle to and from the field. Strip grazing is the most effective way to utilize the stover. Table 3 estimates the value of corn stover as a feed source on a per acre basis, assuming it costs $50 an acre to set up and manage the field. Assuming that the grain harvest produced 120 bu/acre, strip grazing the stover should provide 60 cow days of grazing per acre. Depending on the size of the cobs and harvest conditions, there may be a significant amount of grain left in the field. In order to minimize the risk of bloat, make sure cows are full of feed before first turn out onto the corn stover field, provide some familiar dry hay for the first couple of days, and keep a close eye on them.
*Assumptions: 120 bu/acre grain yield, 6700lbsstover residue in field (80% dm), cows utilize 25% of residue [1670 lbs/acre].
#Corn stover value has been adjusted to reflect a $50/acre charge for fencing, water provision and management time. Does not include cost to transport cattle to and from field. Does not include charge for protein supplement which may be needed as season progresses.
One acre of stover would provide feed for 1 cow for 2 months, or 60 cow days per acre.
Energy and Protein Concentrate Feeds
Although beef cows are not usually fed much in the way of concentrates, they may be required when low quality roughages such as straw make up a large component of the diet. Table 4 gives the replacement rates for some concentrate feeds, relative to the energy and protein contained in average quality hay. It also estimates the breakeven price for these alternative feeds compared with hay valued at $175/tonne.
Note: A feed bunk is required for concentrate feeds. Ground feeding may result in up to 30% loss.
*You could pay up to this amount per tonne and it would be a better
value than buying hay @ $175/tonne
Table 5 gives the breakeven prices for concentrate feeds compared with buying hay at prices ranging from $25/tonne to $350/tonne, which is equivalent to [1.1 cents/lb to 15.9 cents/lb], and [$9/bale to $127/bale] (800 lb bale).
*see Table 4 for feeding limits for each feed.
These various alternative feeds can be used to stretch hay supplies or provide novel rations for beef cows. Producers should work with a feeds specialist prior to making dramatic ration changes. Any new feeds need to be introduced slowly to avoid digestive upset. It may take up to 2 weeks to complete the change if the 2 diets are very different.
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