On most cattle operations, feed represents the largest single variable input cost. Livestock producers continually examine ways to reduce this cost and explore options to efficiently and safely feed their livestock. While hay, pasture, other forages and grains make up the largest component of livestock feed, there are many alternative feeds that can supplement and even improve the diet. Cost effective procurement of non-conventional feeds can increase profitability across the operation.
When faced with reduced supplies of good quality hay due to declining production acres and weather events such as late spring frosts, excessive rains or drought, many producers seek alternative feeds for their livestock. While these alternative feed sources can offer flexibility and low-cost options, feed testing and advice from a livestock nutritionist is recommended to ensure nutritional requirements of the type of cattle being fed are being met.
When adding alternative feeds into a ration or feeding program, changes should be made slowly to allow the cattle to adjust to the feed. Sudden changes to their diet can create digestive problems and negatively impact rumen health. Ensure that the diet contains adequate amounts of fibre and that changes are made slowly over several weeks; allow a step up or transition period to acclimate cattle to the new feed source or additive.
Alternative feeds can include crop residues, damaged crops, processing by-products, fruit, vegetable and bakery waste, off grade grains and even weeds. Resourceful producers will consider several factors when sourcing alternative feeds:
- cost of feed
- cost of transportation
- storage of feed including special bins, silos, or conditions to reduce spoilage
- nutritional value of feed including any deficiencies or toxicity that must be corrected
- consistency and ongoing availability of feed
- ease of integration into operation, such as special feeding management, grinding, or mixing equipment required
- palatability of feed and acceptance by livestock
To learn more about alternative feeds visit the new web page.
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