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Cattle in a feedlot

Challenging climatic conditions, such as continued periods of dry weather or heavy rainfall, can negatively impact grazed forage stands and cause producers to rely more heavily on stored forage resources.

In situations where access to stored forage resources may be limited, alternative roughages or management strategies are sometimes needed to meet beef cow nutritional requirements. During these times, it is important to design a feeding program that fully utilizes local feed resources.

In times of challenging climatic conditions, consider the following tips when feeding cattle.

  • Analyze forages and feed resources to determine nutritional value.
  • Balance rations with animal requirements.
  • Match nutrient needs as much as possible. Determine the body condition score of cattle to better determine energy status of the animal.
    • Feed higher value feedstuffs to those with greater energy requirements such as lactating cows, replacement heifers, and growing calves.
    • Use lower quality feedstuffs for dry cows in mid pregnancy, and save better feed for the last third of the pregnancy.

If Forage Resources Become Limited

The following provides some information on how to stretch existing hay supplies and evaluate alternative feedstuffs for use in beef cattle diets.

Limit-Feeding Hay

If hay supplies are extremely tight, limit-feeding hay can reduce forage intake by 20 to 30 percent. A reduction in intake occurs by limiting hay access to six to eight hours per day, or by providing a reduced daily allotment. Hay waste is also reduced, improving the overall efficiency of the system.

This strategy is only effective with mid-to-high-quality forage and should not be used with low-quality hay. Limit-feeding hay should only be done with cows in good body condition (body condition score of five or higher).

Use of an Ionophore

Consider using an ionophore as part of the feeding program. An ionophore can be used to improved feed efficiency in beef cattle, and may reduce dry matter intake by 10 percent without a decrease in overall performance. Use in combination with a complete feeding program containing forages and feed matched to the nutrient requirements of the class of livestock being fed.

Alternative Roughages

Cottonseed Hulls

Cottonseed hulls are a palatable roughage source. However, they are extremely low in nutritive value (42 percent total digestible nutrients and four to five percent crude protein) and should only be used as a source of roughage. Because of their ease of handling when compared to grinding hay, they are a popular roughage source for high-grain diets. Generally, they are over-priced compared to other nutrient sources. However, if it is important to mix a roughage source into a complete diet and grinding hay is not an option, then cottonseed hulls may be useful.

Gin Trash

Gin trash is comprised of everything that was in the raw cotton except for the cotton fiber and seed. Many of the gins in Alabama will produce trash that contains approximately 45 to 48 percent total digestible nutrients and seven to nine crude protein.

In various substation research trials across the state, palatability has been good in both stocker calves and brood cows. The biggest deterrents to its use as a roughage source are those associated with logistics. It is dusty when handling and quite bulky for transportation. Another factor to consider is that many gins will add water as the material is being expelled from the gin to decrease potential dust problems. With a wet product, the stack may undergo heating to such an extent that many of the nutrients can become bound and thus less digestible. Some of this material will actually have a charred appearance.

Cotton Mote

If available, this is one of the more preferred roughage sources. Similar to gin trash, cotton mote generally contains 45 to 50 percent total digestible nutrients and seven to nine percent crude protein. However, unlike the gin trash, the logistical problems are minimal with cotton mote. Most of the material that is used in Alabama is baled (e.g., 4’x4’x5′ bales). Thus, the handling and feeding equipment used for large, round bales of hay can be used for this by-product. Palatability has not been a problem with most of this material.

Peanut Hulls

Peanut hulls are a roughage source and nothing more. They contain seven and a half to eight percent  protein and 22 percent total digestible nutrients and are considered low quality. Georgia research shows  feeding ground or pelleted peanut hulls causes damage to the rumen wall of the cattle and liver abscesses in 55 to 60 percent of the cattle that were fed these hulls for 135 days.

However, results from a study at the Wiregrass Research & Extension Center showed pelleted peanut hulls as an effective roughage source when hay was excluded from the diet and fed as 50 percent of the total diet.  Based on these results, if pelleted peanut hulls are going to be used as the sole roughage source, it still might be prudent to use some portion as loose hulls to prevent digestive problems.

Final Thoughts

Roughage sources can become quite costly if they have to be transported any great distance. Be absolutely certain that the economics make sense before you commit entirely to an alternative roughage source.

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