Dry climatic conditions that persist into the summer and early fall may limit grazed and stored forage availability in beef operations. When dealing with dry periods, it is important to design a feeding program that fully utilizes local feed resources. Consider the following tips when feeding cattle through periods of drought:
- Analyze forages and feed resources to determine nutritional value.
- Balance rations with animal requirements.
- Match nutrient needs as much as possible – 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. Body condition score cattle to better determine energy status of the animal.
If Forage Resources Become Limited:
As dry conditions continue, periods of decreased hay supply may be experienced in some areas of the state. 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%. 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 (BCS of 5 or greater).
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% 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.
Cottonseed hulls. Cottonseed hulls are a very palatable roughage source. They are extremely low in nutritive value [42% total digestible nutrients (TDN) and 4 to 5% crude protein (CP)] 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% TDN and 7 to 9% CP. 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 very 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% TDN and 7 to 9% CP. 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 7.5 to 8% protein and 22% TDN, and are considered very low quality. Georgia research showed feeding ground or pelleted peanut hulls caused damage to the rumen wall of the cattle and liver abscesses in 55 to 60% 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% 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.
Annual peanut hay. On average, most of the peanut hay analyzed at the Auburn Forage Testing Lab contains 13 to 17% protein and 52 to 57% TDN. Peanut hay is extremely palatable to beef cattle. If excessive rain falls on the vines while curing, mold can be a problem. Elevated ash content can also be a problem as a result of the inverting process placing soil on the vines. Finally, all peanut hay should be wrapped or stored inside because excessive dry matter and nutrient loss will occur with unprotected bales. Note that certain chemicals used in peanut production are not cleared for the feeding of crop residue to livestock. Check and read labels carefully. This peanut hay should not be confused with perennial peanut hay, which is a high- quality forage crop comparable in value to alfalfa.
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.
Prepared by: Kim Mullenix, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist; Revised from Darrell Rankins Jr., Extension Beef Cattle Specialist