Beef Cattle Feed Alternatives

     A Few Beef Cattle Feed Alternatives are Hay and Forage, Straw and Chaff, Protein Supplements, Screenings, Other Feedstuffs and Ammonization.

Hay and Forage
Dehydrated alfalfa pellets consist of finely ground artificially dried alfalfa forage in 1/4 inch diameter pellets. They can replace up to 14 pounds of forage in dairy rations. In beef cows rations of about 5 pounds daily can be  used to supplement cereal straw. Alfalfa cubes can be used as the only forage for dairy cattle but fewer problems are encountered when at least 5 pounds of long hay are also fed. Dehydrated alfalfa pellets may also be used in sheep and swine rations. Dehydrated pellets can also be used as a protein supplement when fed with low quality roughage.

     Slough hay can provide the forage requirements of beef cattle, sheep, and dairy replacement animals, if adequately supplemented. The feed value for slough hay is usually higher than cereal straw and can approach that of brome grass hay. Slough hay is more variable in quality than tame grasses. Generally, fine grasses are higher in value. The coarse material is less digestible and will need supplementation with grain to meet the energy and protein requirements of wintering beef cows. Harvest should occur before killing frost as frozen slough hay will deteriorate quickly and is only about equivalent to cereal straw in value.

     Cereal hay is suitable to provide the forage component of rations for all classes of beef cattle, sheep and dairy cattle and should be equal in value to good quality brome grass hay. Wheat, oats, barley, rye, rapeseed and mustard crops can be used for livestock feed. Harvesting should occur between heading and the soft dough stage and should be timed to retain as much leafy material as possible. Rye hay loses palatability and protein content rapidly after flowering. Good quality cereal hay or silage is about equivalent to brome grass hay in energy and protein content. Oat, mustard and rapeseed crops which have frozen or which have suffered from severe drought prior to harvest should be checked for nitrate content and the ration adjusted if significant amounts of nitrate are present.

     Native grasses, referred to as “prairie wool”, are suitable for use in most beef cattle and sheep rations, can be used for replacement dairy cattle and if necessary for milking dairy cattle. These grasses approach brome grass hay in protein and energy content. Stands which are more than one year old can be utilized if available. Care should be taken to avoid cutting while the spears are present on spear grass, generally during July and August.

     Roadside hay primarily consists of grass hay, (bromes, crested wheat) and some clover or alfalfa. When harvesting and feeding it, avoid glass and other foreign material.

     Russian thistle may be used for hay when other forages are not available. It can make up a significant portion of rations for beef cattle and sheep. Feed it in very limited amounts to dairy cattle. It is usually equal to a fair quality hay in protein content but is lower in Total Digestible Nutrients. It is a surprisingly palatable feed. Because of its high ash content, it may cause cattle to scour if fed at a high level.

     False or wild barley (foxtail) has awns which, if fed in large quantities, can become impacted in the mouths of cattle. Use this forage cautiously. Grinding through a hammer mill may help to break up the awn.

     Kochia weed is harvested before it matures is excellent cattle feed. It is as high or higher in energy and protein as good alfalfa hay. A high mineral content makes it extremely laxative. Kochia weed should not make up more than 25 per cent of the total diet.

Straw and Chaff
Fresh cereal straw is a good alternative in wintering rations for cows and sheep if properly supplemented with an energy source like grain and with added minerals and vitamins. All cereal straws can be fed, with oat and barley straws being preferable because they are more palatable. Straw can be used in combination with other feeds as the sole roughage for beef cows, however, its use should be limited to 8 to 10 pounds to maintain milk production in dairy cows.

     Straw one year old should also be considered a feed source. It usually is slightly more digestible and palatable than fresh straw.

     Ammoniating straw and chaff will improve their feed value and increase consumption. Calculate the cost of ammonization before treating straw. Ammonization reduces but does not eliminate the need for grain.

     Chaff can be used in a similar manner to straw in rations for beef cows and sheep. It contains some grain and weed seeds making it slightly better in feeding value than straw. It, however, still must be supplemented with minerals and vitamins and an energy source such as grain. Producers have successfully left chaff in fields as bunches to be grazed or fed in combination wintering rations. Feeding on the ground can waste up to 50 percent of poor quality feed. Using tombstone feeders or electric fences greatly reduces wastage. Using chaff as feed leaves the straw on the land to prevent erosion.

     Flax straw is considered to be of lower feeding value than cereal straws. It is coarse and fibrous and as a result, cannot be processed but is readily eaten by cows. If frozen, it should be analyzed for prussic acid, which can be poisonous to animals consuming it. Energy and protein must be adequate to guard against rumen impaction.

Protein Supplements
Liquid protein supplements can be used as part of balanced rations for ruminants. Most of the liquid protein supplements are mixtures based on molasses and contain urea and/or performed protein, supplemental minerals and vitamins. Read the label carefully to regulate the amounts animals receive or the amounts to be mixed in the grain rations. Most liquid protein supplements are low in calcium and require a calcium supplement to be fed. Do not feed with other feeds containing urea or with ammoniated straw or chaff as toxicity may result. Do not feed straw and liquid protein supplement only. Some grain or quality hay is required to provide sufficient energy.

     Canola meal, produced after oil is extracted from low erucic acid, low glucosinolates rapeseed contains about 37 per cent protein and same TDN as oat grain. It can be used as an alternative to soybean meal. If oil meals are used in place of commercial protein supplements, pay special attention to minerals and vitamins in the rations. During a cold snap, cattle of low quality roughage need extra energy and protein to prevent rumen impaction.

Western grain screenings (pelletized screenings) contain mixed grains, wild oats, weed seeds, chaff, hulls and some dust. The contents are finely ground and pelleted. They are similar to light oats in feeding characteristics (11-12 per cent protein and 60-68 per cent TDN). The amount fed to milking cows should not exceed 6-8 pounds per head daily. They can also be used to supplement roughage (replacing cereal grains) in feeding beef calves and cows and replacement dairy heifers. Because of their fine particle size and the characteristics of some of their ingredients, digestive upsets such as bloat, might occur if they are fed at a high level.

     Pelleted flour mill by-products containing 15 percent protein, 3 to 6 per cent fat, 12.5 per cent fiber and 65 to 68 per cent TDN may be available in some areas. They consist of wheat bran, broken kernels and weed seeds, making them comparable in feeding value to oats. They, however, still must be supplemented with minerals and vitamins.

     Rapeseed fine screenings are made up of pods, broken stems and dust particles along with some cereal grain and larger weed seeds. They have about the same feeding value as a medium quality hay.

     Lentil screenings or lentils rejected because of ascochyta blight discoloration make a good protein source for cattle rations. Crude protein varies between 18 to 24 per cent. They can also be used as an energy source.

Other Feedstuffs
Pea Vines – The residue from production of field peas and lentils is a satisfactory feed that is about equivalent to a low quality grass hay in feeding value. The palatability is quite good.

     Brewer’s mash – This byproduct from malting barley can be used as a feed in either wet or dry form. It is low in energy (61 per cent TDN of dry matter) but high in protein (25 percent of dry matter). It’s an excellent source of B vitamins, but its use for swine may be limited due to its bulkiness in wet form.

     Bakery waste – Stale bread and other baking products may be ground and used as a replacement for cereal grains. Because of the fine particle size, it should be mixed with other concentrates and limited to about 10 percent of the total ration.

     Bullrushes, willows, buckbrush and other woody material are generally not well digested by cattle or sheep. Limited quantities present in hay are not harmful but enough hay should be provided to allow animals to sort out and reject the woody material. They may, however, be used as bedding, if ground.

     Grinding roughages. When hay and straw are scarce, grinding has several advantages. Animals cannot sort as easily and will eat everything, reducing waste. Low quality roughage can be mixed with higher quality in proportions you choose and the cows have to eat it all. Feeds with high nitrate levels can be diluted below the toxic level. Animals can eat more poor quality roughage if it is ground, and therefore grow faster or maintain themselves easier than on the uncut roughage. However, if energy and protein supplementation is not adequate, rumen impaction can be a very real problem. There is no point in grinding forage for beef cows if they can get enough to eat without grinding. It increases cost, encourages over consumption and could lead to impaction. Grinding might pay if you were mixing quality feeds and limit feeding to prevent waste. If hay or straw is tough or damp, power requirements to grind it go way up. The dryer the better. A 1/2 inch screen is the best size as there is better intake, less bridging and feed particle separation in complete rations. Acidulated fatty acid (AFA), tallow, mineral oil, crude vegetable oil, molasses and water have all been used to cut dust problems. If water is used, the cut feed should be consumed within 24-48 hours to prevent heating.

Ammonization of straw and chaff
It is recommended to leave the straw on the land especially in the brown and dark brown soil zones, and collect chaff for feed. Straw left on the land preserves soil tilth and helps prevent erosion. When a producer is faced with a feed shortage, he must decide whether to remove the straw for feed or look for more feed elsewhere. Ammonization is a method of treating low-quality hay and crop residues such as straw and chaff to improve their nutrition value as feeds for ruminant animals. The method involves sealing the residue or hay in a gas-tight enclosure and adding anhydrous liquid ammonia supplied by fertilizer dealers. After 21 days, the chemical reaction is complete. Ammonization improves feeding quality by increasing the amount of digestible energy (TDN) in the residue, the amount of roughage the animal will consume, and the crude protein equivalent (CP). No problems have been reported with the feeding of ammoniated feeds. No abortions, significantly lightweight calves or reproductive problems have been associated with ammonization. No incidents of impaction should occur provided the total energy intake is adequate. Ammonization of straw or chaff reduces grain requirements, but does not eliminate it.

     Sampling prior to ammonization – Straw or chaff intended for ammoniating should contain at least 12 per cent moisture, preferably 15 to 20 percent. The feeding quality of straw or chaff should be as follows: wheat straw should have a TDN of at least 33 per cent and barley straw a TDN of at least 38 per cent. To assure that the moisture content and feeding quality of your straw or chaff are adequate for ammonization, submit a representative sample for analysis. Combine small amounts of straw taken from different parts of the field or the stack so the analysis will truly represent your material. Your agricultural representative and livestock specialist have the equipment required to sample your residue properly.

     When to ammoniate – A minimum moisture level of 12 per cent is necessary for efficient ammonization. This can be achieved by baling early in the morning after a heavy dew or by baling as soon as possible after a rainfall. Usually chaff collected from combining a swathed cereal crop is very dry, containing 8-10 per cent moisture. The moisture content must be increased to 15-20 per cent, or a satisfactory improvement indigestibility may not be obtained.