How does hemp fit in with grazing and livestock?
Surprisingly, the plant with 50,000 uses can work for a few more, according to MAFRI diversification specialist Keith Watson.
Hemp meal, the leftover mush from squeezing the grain for oil, can be fed to cattle. High in essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, it is also high in gamma linoleic acid, which is found in evening primrose, borage or fish oil.
Already, hemp oil is fed to laying hens to create specialty nutraceutical eggs, but there is no reason why it couldn’t be used for finishing beef as well, said Watson.
That’s the grain. What about the plant itself?
Although it’s not registered as a cattle feed source for livestock with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – neither is alfalfa, apparently – hemp could be cut for silage.
There have been feeder trials with hemp for its suitability for silage, and it was found that it worked well so long as the crop was cut before the early-seed-set stage.
“If a neighbour has a hemp field that gets hailed out, it would be an ideal fit for your silage,” he said, adding that its high moisture content might require a short wilting period before ensiling.
On-the-ground feeding trials done half a decade ago by researchers in Alberta found that cattle fed hemp did as well as a control group fed regular silage.
“The first thing people think – because it is a fibre crop – is that it will just plug them up solid. But in reality, as long as it is fed as silage, that’s not a problem,” said Watson, adding that as a dry feed, it might cause rumen impaction problems.
Also, two new markets for fibre hemp are opening up. One is the Schweitzer-Maudit flax plant in Carman which will be buying more hemp bales this fall after a trial purchase of some 300 tonnes earlier this spring.
The other is a processing facility in Gilbert Plains currently being constructed by a Chinese entrepreneur who owns a textile factory in China. It will likely be up and running next year, and might pay up anywhere from $100 to $140 per tonne.
“You’ve got a haybine and a baler and every so often, you have to renovate a pasture or hayland. You might have to invite your friendly grain-farming neighbour over to seed it, but if you’re looking for a cash crop, you have the equipment to harvest it,” he said.
Hemp hurd, the spongy inner core of the stalk, is separated at decorticating plants and sold as a high-end, dust-free absorbent bedding for horses. Queen Elizabeth II’s stables have used it for years, he added.
“It also fits in for gerbils and hamsters,” he said.
Hurd is also being used by masons as an insulating filler mixed with lime plaster for mortared walls.
“There is a company in the U. S. that’s doing that, but they have to import it from England, so it’s very expensive.”
Growing hemp, a warm-season crop, is relatively easy, added Watson, although it hasn’t liked this year’s extended monsoon much, especially in low spots. The grain is typically straight combined, then dried to reduce moisture levels.
For fibre, current registered varieties yield anywhere from three to five tonnes per acre, but newer unregistered varieties are pushing 10 tonnes.
Deer readily graze hemp, he noted. For cattle, it would need to be grazed early, well before the stalks have a chance to get woody.
Fall dormant-seeded plots are being looked at in the Roblin area, he said. Yields in some cases have been 50 to 100 per cent higher for grain and fibre, but longer-term study of the risk of crop failure with fall seeding is needed.
“One out of three years you may lose it, but then you can just reseed it in the spring,” said Watson. [email protected]
“You’vegotahaybineandabalerandeverysooftenyouhave torenovateapastureorhayland.Youmighthavetoinviteyour friendlygrain-farmingneighbourovertoseedit,butifyou’re lookingforacashcrop,youhavetheequipmenttoharvestit.”
– KEITH WATSON