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Consider alternative grazing, forage sources

Jeff Caldwell 08/22/2012 @ 8:59am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

If you're struggling to find feed for your cattle herd, you may be overlooking a few alternative feedstocks that, though obviously of lower quality, can get you through this tough drought period.

A lot of producers are facing a dilemma: Liquidate the herd or keep them all and "get creative" with feeding and grazing. If you choose the latter, you may be able to get more feed value from plants previously not considered part of a grazing or feeding ration, says Kansas State University beef systems specialist Justin Waggoner.

That includes crop residues and even some weeds. But, make sure whatever you feed is tested thoroughly for toxicity before you feed it; especially in a drought year, high nitrate levels can be a major issue, Waggoner says.

“They are nontraditional for a reason,” Waggoner says.

If you can, Waggoner recommends letting cattle graze these alternative forages so you're not tying up as much as $35/ton in baling costs. If you do bale, though, there is one way you can improve the digestibility of that forage and knock down nitrate toxicity.

"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% ammonia of the total weight of the dry stack. The time the stack should remain covered varies with temperature," according to a university report. "At temperatures of more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving the stacks covered for approximately two weeks is usually sufficient."

Learn more about ammoniating wheat straw

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