This is a time of year when many of you turn your thoughts to winter feeding programs. In normal years, you typically have a good handle on the quantity and quality of your forage supply and the challenge is to balance the ration with appropriate energy, protein and mineral supplements for the class of cattle you are feeding. However, for many producers in Alberta and Saskatchewan, this is not a normal year with drought severely affecting pastures and hay crops. The shortage of hay and subsequent astronomical prices have many scrambling to find alternative feed supplies. To this end, I will devote this column as well as next month’s to exploring alternatives to conventional feeding programs.
Let’s start with some basic economic and nutrition facts. Typical grass hay averages 11 per cent crude protein (CP) and 1.23 and 0.66 Mcal/kg of net energy for maintenance (NEm) and gain (NEg), respectively (DM basis). At the time of writing, hay prices are $200 per tonne or higher in many areas of Western Canada. In contrast, barley grain depending on location is trading at prices between $180 and $220 per tonne. At 11 per cent CP and 2.03 and 1.37 Mcal/kg of NEm and NEg respectively, barley grain is far and away a better value for your feed dollar! For example, when both feeds are priced at $200/tonne, five pounds of barley grain will provide approximately 160 per cent more NEm and 200 per cent more NEg than an equal amount of grass hay. Now there are limitations with respect to feeding barley grain to beef cows (which will be discussed in the next issue), the point however, is that under drought induced feed shortages one needs to think outside of the box in order to meet the animal’s requirements and keep costs reasonable.
Are there other alternative feed sources that can be used to supplement or replace typical hay-based feeding programs? In terms of supplements, the first class that comes to mind is the various byproducts of the grain and oilseed-processing sectors. These industries typically generate a primary product such as ethanol and one or more co-products suitable for livestock feeding such as dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS). Byproduct feeds vary in nutrient content, price and availability. The following is a brief description of the more common alternative feeds typically available across Canada.
DDGS are an excellent source of energy and protein that are priced relative to barley or corn grain. Crude protein (CP) levels average 38 and 30 per cent for wheat- and corn-based DDGS, respectively, with energy values that equal or exceed that of barley grain. Numerous research reports have shown that DDGS can replace barley grain at levels ranging from 20 to 40 per cent of the diet (DM basis) in growing and finishing rations without any drop in performance. Work conducted by the Western Beef Development Centre has shown that wheat DDGS can be fed as the sole energy and protein supplement to wintering beef cows grazing stockpiled forage.
Canola meal, a byproduct of canola processing is relatively high in crude protein (38 to 40 per cent) but only moderate in energy content (1.63 and 1.02 Mcal/kg of NEm and NEg). It is typically priced relative to other protein supplements (soybean meal), thus it is best utilized as a protein supplement. Byproducts such as wheat midds and grain screening pellets are generated from the grain-processing sector. Wheat midds average 16 to 18 per cent CP and are similar in energy content to barley grain. As with DDGS, wheat midds can be used as a supplemental source of energy and protein for wintering cows, particularly those on poor-quality forage. A typical grain screening pellet will average 13 to 15 per cent CP and 1.68 and 1.07 Mcal/kg of NEm and NEg, or 82 per cent of the NEm value of barley grain. While not as high in energy as some of the other byproducts, screening pellets are a good source of both energy and protein for pregnant beef cows. Fortified grain screening pellets include a cereal grain such as barley in the formulation and thus are closer to barley grain in energy and price.
All of these byproducts can work well in wintering diets for beef cows — the question is availability and pricing! If you have not booked your supply, it is advisable to do so as soon as possible.
Alternative forage sources are more difficult to source. Annual cereals (i.e. barley or oats) cut at mid-dough have been a time-tested substitute for hay during drought years. Their feed value is relatively similar to good grass or grass/legume hay. Cereals baled as a salvage crop are liable to be more variable in nutrient content and will require a feed test to determine actual value. Cereal straw is low in CP (3.5 to 4.5 per cent) and energy (0.77 and 0.23 Mcal/kg NEm and NEg, respectively). In recent years, the availability of cereal straw has varied widely, thus if you hope to convenience your neighbour to drop straw, this is a good time to start arm-twisting!
Oat hulls are a byproduct of the oat-processing sector and are similar to or slightly superior to cereal straw in terms of nutrient content. In my next column, we will look at the challenges involved with developing and feeding rations based on alternative feed sources.