Get creative with feeding options
Producers who trucked in supplemental forages from farther north last year will likely be out of luck this season thanks to the expansive drought.
Many producers will be forced to get creative with feeding and grazing this year, said Justin Waggoner, K-State beef systems specialist, during the 2012 K-State Beef Conference on Aug. 9. "We're probably going to have to make do with what we have," he said.
Waggoner advised producers to explore feeding non-traditional forages, such as crop residues or weeds. Most alternative forages have some associated risk though. "They are nontraditional for a reason," Waggoner said. Testing samples of forage for toxic substances helps assess the risk involved with feeding it.
High nitrate levels in forages are especially important to watch for, Waggoner said. When plants experience stress, such as a drought, their nitrate levels rise, which can be deadly for cattle. Nitrate content up to 3,000 ppm is considered safe, while 3,000 to 6,000 ppm only moderately safe and should not constitute more than half of the ration for stressed animals. If the content is 6,000 to 9,000 ppm, the forage could be toxic and should not be the sole source of feed.
Waggoner said nitrate content is typically variable, and he stressed the importance of thorough sampling. Producers should record the field of origin for each sample. Forage from an area with high nitrate levels may be mixed with forage from an area with lower levels and fed to cattle with lower risk of toxicity.
From an economical perspective, Waggoner also recommended grazing forage whenever possible instead of baling it into hay. "Anytime we run a swather and baler, we're going to tie up $30 to $35 a ton in that forage," he said.
If it is necessary to hay, Waggoner recommended ammoniating low-quality forage to improve digestibility and intake. To ammoniate, stack bales in a 3,2 or 3,2,1 arrangement and cover the stack with 6 mil black plastic. Seal the edges with soil and insert the anhydrous line, applying about 3 percent ammonia of the total weight of the dry stack. The time the stack should remain covered varies with temperature. At temperatures of more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving the stacks covered for approximately two weeks is usually sufficient. Waggoner warned against ammoniating forages containing weeds or moderate quality forages, as toxic substances can be produced.
A K-State Research and Extension video "how-to" on Ammoniating Low Quality Forages is posted at http://youtu.be/-JtjJb-umpk.
If a producer is able to locate available forages to buy, Waggoner recommended asking a few questions to help assess its quality, since forage is rarely bought or sold with sample results.
1. What did the field look like prior to cutting? What were the dominant plant species?
2. What is the history of management? Was it in CRP?
3. When was it cut?