Alternative feeds for cattle during drought | Living the Country Life
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Alternative feeds for cattle during drought

Drought is a part of the normal production cycle. Dealing with these dry periods and decreased feed supplies needs to be part of the overall management plan.

There are several options to consider when planning an alternative feed program, according to R. Baird LeValley, Colorado State University Extension livestock and range agent. The goal is to re-breed cows while maintaining calving intervals, maintain pounds of calf produced per cow, and minimize feed cost per pound of calf sold. Think about the following:

  • Design a feeding program to fully utilize local feeds.
  • Supplement low quality feeds correctly.
  • Analyze forages and feed precisely.
  • Substitute 1 pound of grain or other concentrate feed for 2 pounds of alfalfa hay or 3 pounds of grass hay.
  • Carefully balance every ration against the animal’s requirements.
  • Make every effort to reduce feed losses.
  • Feed the highest quality feeds to animals that have higher feed requirements (i.e., growing replacement heifers or growing calves).
  • Feed the lower quality roughages to cows in the middle-third stage of pregnancy.
  • Save the better quality feeds for periods before and after calving.
  • Treat low-quality roughages with feed additives to improve palatability and feeding quality.

Stretching the hay pile

Grain is not always practical to feed, but it can take the pressure off of your hay supply. Many producers use barrels, gated pipe split in half, bunks, or old hog feeders mounted on a trailer to feed grain with minimal waste. Relocating the herd into drylot for feeding is another option.

Remember, some roughage is required to maintain rumen function. As a rule of thumb, cows should receive at least 0.5 percent of their body weight as roughage (90 percent dry matter basis). Thus, a 1,200-pound cow should receive at least 6 pounds of roughage per day.

Cows should be slowly adapted to high-grain feeding, just like feedlot cattle. A suggested practice is to begin with 2 to 3 pounds of whole shelled corn per head, per day and free-choice roughage. Then, increase the grain by 1 pound per day, and reduce the hay by 2 pounds each day until the final ration is attained. Make sure plenty of bunk space is provided so all cows can eat at the same time, and feed two times per day if possible. Once the cows are switched over to the limit-fed, grain-based ration, observe their body condition over time and adjust the grain as needed to maintain adequate condition.

Other options

Alternative feedstuffs used to decrease the dependency on alfalfa or grass hay include harvested corn stalks, millet hay, wheat straw, sorghum-sudan, cottonseed hulls, soybean hulls, wheat middlings and corn gluten feed. 

Before feeding these, conduct a nutritional analysis and test for nitrates in annual forages including sorghums, and for prussic acid levels in sorghums, sudans and sorghum-sudan varieties.

Cottonseed hulls are low in protein (3.5 percent), but equal in energy to late-cut grass hay. They should be fed with 2 to 3 pounds of 30% to 40% all-natural protein supplement and mineral.

Soybean hulls range from 10% to 16% crude protein. Soyhulls can be fed without additional forage, however the digestible energy is increased when fed with hay in a 2-to-1 ratio.

Wheat middlings are a good source of protein (18%) and energy. It is best to mix at least 5 pounds of forage with the wheat middlings.

Corn gluten feed is a byproduct of the corn wet milling industry and is available in wet or dry form. It is high in protein (25%) and should be fed at a rate of 0.5% of body weight, with a forage source.

A calcium-phosphorus mineral mixture and salt should be available to cows at all times, especially when utilizing any alternative feeds. Vitamin A may also need to be supplemented.

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