For Prairie cattle producers looking for alternative feed sources this year, one possibility may be kochia.
Kochia is an invasive weed, often seen growing on marginal land or tumbling across the Prairies. It’s a prolific seed producer, growing in saline soil and in arid or semi-arid conditions.
A recent news release from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) notes that research out of AAFC’s Swift Current station and the University of Saskatchewan has found that kochia has plenty of biomass, making it a viable forage option.
One option producers might want to consider is to bale stunted cereal crops that have kochia growing in the saline areas within them, the release notes.
However, it’s best to harvest kochia before or during the flowering phrase, to reap the highest crude protein and digestibility and for harvest ease. Mature plants have woodier stems, which can be hard on equipment and reduce forage quality and digestibility. Harvested kochia would benefit from some form of hay conditioning that crimps or crushes the forage to promote faster and more even drying.
Harvesting before seed set also reduces the plant’s spread. The release notes this would be sometime in July for most of the southern Prairies.
One very important consideration when feeding kochia is that it can contain saponins, alkaloids, oxalates and nitrates in amounts that can be harmful or toxic to cattle. Therefore, no more than 50 per cent of the ration should consist of kochia.
Producers can blend hay bales from fields of failed cereal crops containing high kochia content with other forages to ensure safe levels. AAFC also recommends submitting forage samples to a feed testing laboratory to ensure forages are meeting livestock production needs.