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Be Cautious When Feeding Flood-Damaged Feedstuffs

Recent floods and wet conditions have done considerable damage to farm ground, and they’ve also damaged stored grain and feed. Separating flood damaged grain from dry grain in bins may be possible and can salvage some of the unharmed grain. However, the grain that has been in contact with floodwaters should not be fed to livestock.

Charlie Hurburgh, Iowa State University grain specialist and director of the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative says the current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy is that grain inundated by uncontrolled river or stream water is considered adulterated and must be destroyed. 

“The current situation is one of river water flooding rather than of rain-driven pooled water in low ground, for which there are salvage options. River-based floodwaters can bring in many hazards and rapid spoilage,” Hurburgh says.

Flood-damaged grain has the potential for many contaminants, which is why it should be destroyed. Hurburgh says it can contain contaminants from storm and sanitary sewers as well as animal waste products or high chemical levels. 

“Corn will stay at about 30% moisture after water drains off and soybeans at about 25% moisture. Moisture doesn’t normally travel more than a foot above the waterline,” Hurburgh says.

Amy Millmier Schmidt, University of Nebraska Lincoln livestock bioenvironmental engineer, says flooded hay can be an issue, too, and a cause of concern for livestock producers. Wet forages and hay no longer in water can generate heat from microbial activity and are a fire hazard. 

“These hay bales should be moved away from farm facilities and monitored. Sometimes opening up a pile and adding oxygen will result in fire. If already smoking, stay away,” Millmier Schmidt says. 

Disposal options

Farmers and ranchers have a few options for disposing of flood-damaged forages and grains. Dan Loy, Iowa Bee Center director, suggests a consultation with the FDA, Department of Agriculture, or Department of Natural Resources before making a decision on how to dispose of the grain or forage. 

“Feeding should be under the supervision of a veterinarian. Ensiling is an option, but only on grains that haven’t been contaminated. The damaged grains should be disposed of to prevent any problems with animal health,” Loy says.

A common option used for damaged feedstuffs is composting, according to Millmier Schmidt. “It may reduce the potential for livestock and wildlife to consume the contaminated grain and would limit their exposure to potential toxins,” Millmier Schmidt says. 

Composting also limits the potential for germination of grain seeds, which reduces the chance of volunteer corn or soybeans in fields where the compost is spread. UNL suggests piling wet feedstuffs 4 to 6 feet high to actively compost, as smaller windrows can lead to problems with overheating and spontaneous combustion. Adequate space should be left between the windrows for a bucket loader to turn the piles.

Burning the damaged feedstuffs is another option. Proper methods should be used during burning. According to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, open burning of these materials can be conducted without an air permit if the material is burned on the same site where it was damaged by flooding and no other debris or waste is combined with it. It is suggested to get a burn permit from a local fire department.

Millmier Schmidt says it’s important to keep records about where the damaged grains and forages are and how they are disposed of, in case a future problem should arise. 

Loy says if grains are recovered and fed to livestock, to only do so after testing for mycotoxins (toxic substances produced by fungi) and contacting a nutritionist and veterinarian. If these feedstuffs are fed, it’s also important to monitor animals for any signs of illness.

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