Assessing your situation: Shortage of feed and flood concerns

With the long winter we have been experiencing, many pastures around the province are not going to be ready for grazing any time soon. Add to that the threat of spring flooding, and many beef producers are left wondering what may happen even when those pastures start to green up.

Both Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP) and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) have fielded calls with questions about stretching forage supplies through to spring pasture. The need to plan ahead to ensure feed availability is even more critical considering the potential for flooding this spring and the potential for herds to become isolated during this time.

Taking a look at the big picture, there is a shortage of hay in Manitoba. This stretches throughout the entire province, but it is certainly felt most critically in the southeast areas that were hit by drought conditions last year, as well as near the lakes that experienced reduced yield and acreage due to the 2011 flood.

Lower-quality forages or a combination of feed and straw is usually the first thing that comes to mind when considering alternatives to hay. Some things need to be kept in mind when supplementing with straw.

Rumen compaction may occur if straw is fed alone with no readily available energy and/or protein supply for the rumen microbes. Producers should also keep in mind that in the last trimester of pregnancy a cow’s nutrient requirements increase significantly.

Therefore, it is important to provide higher-quality feed either in the form of good-quality alfalfa hay or increase protein and energy supplementation. Roughages like straw do not contain sufficient levels of nutrients. However, in combination with the use of grains, byproducts, protein supplements and mineral/vitamin premixes, the demands of livestock can be met.  

Critical nutrients

It is critical to supply all of the nutrients the animals need in order for them to maintain good health, body condition, high reproductive rates and desirable weaning weights.

There are some options available to increase feed energy. Ammoniation of straw would run approximately $20 to $25 per bale, increasing protein by six per cent to seven per cent.

Liquid molasses runs approximately $8.75 per bale. When administered correctly and distributed evenly throughout the bale, adding molasses may increase protein by 1.6 per cent on a 1,000-pound straw bale — from five per cent to 6.6 per cent. The energy (TDN) on that bale will increase 2.3 per cent — from 49 per cent to 51.3 per cent. 

We have received questions about feeding alternative feeds such as hemp screenings, pea flour, and oat hulls. These will all work in beef cow rations but they need to be formulated correctly. Your local MAFRI GO office is one source to consider for assistance with formulating rations to ensure animal requirements are being met. 

Seek advice

If you are experiencing feed shortages and possible flood concerns, now is the time to seek professional advice on your situation. Contact either MBP or MAFRI for assistance regarding supplementing your dwindling hay supplies and plans for transporting cattle in a flood situation.

In certain situations, you need to market livestock such as feeders, stockers and replacement heifer calves now prior to a complete exhaustion of feed. It is critical that these decisions be made prior to concerns of malnutrition arising.

Producers, please help your fellow producers. If your neighbour is nearing the end of their feed supply, maybe you can be of assistance. It may be as simple as discussing the feed alternatives that are available. Options must be explored before animal care becomes a concern.

If you are facing a feed shortage, poor pasture conditions, or impending flood challenges, consider your options and start making a plan now. If you need assistance, please call your local MAFRI GO office or Manitoba Beef Producers at 1-800-772-0458 and we will try our best to help you find the answers you need.

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