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Livestock producers scrambling for feed solutions

DROUGHT Two years of drought has 
the sector scrambling as winter approaches See story pg 6

Producers searching for feed may have to go off the beaten path again this year, as supply concerns mount.

The province got little relief from its recent streak of poor forage this year. Most first cuts yielded between 40 to 60 per cent of normal, according to a recent report from the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association. The worst stands fell still short of that. The province reports recent cuts as low as 20 to 30 per cent of average.

An already extended feeding season has not helped matters. Producers are already starting to feed on pasture in the Interlake, southwest and south-central Manitoba, according to the Aug. 20 provincial crop report. Parts of the northwest, meanwhile, have “very little to no second-cut hay.” In the Interlake, producers expect to be widely feeding by the end of August or early September and reports of culls are beginning to emerge.

Why it matters: It’s promising to be another hard year for producers looking to feed their cattle, and farmers may once again have to think outside the box with their feed sourcing.

Forage yields were also far below normal last year due to poor growing conditions. Producers were forced to get creative that season with feed, provincial extension staff and producer groups later reported.

Anecdotes ranged from grain, silage, greenfeed, straw and feed additives; to potatoes, baled canola residue and corn stover, a practice more common in the longer growing seasons of the U.S.

Residual solutions

Producers may need to add in similar options this year, given a dismal feed forecast.

Richard Pauls, a producer in south-central Manitoba, reported that stover worked “reasonably well” on his farm last year.

Manitoba’s short growing season usually raises spoilage concerns with the practice, although advocates argue that is of little concern if bales are used in winter when they are still frozen and point to the sheer biomass of baling stover.

Eldon Obach of Performance Feed Works in Wawanesa also thinks crop residue holds a solution to the province’s feed woes, although his proposal focuses on chaff.

Obach says he has received more interest in his company’s Boomerang chaff cart this year. He has sold two of the $70,000 machines in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, although only one is field ready and sales have been drawn more from the hemp industry than feed.

The cart is drawn from Australian technology and promises four times the volume of typical chaff carts in Canada, along with a conveyor system that allows the producer to collect either chaff or a chaff and straw blend more suitable for baling, according to Obach.

“With a large square baler, it isn’t a problem,” he said. “We want to test with a round baler and, if chaff alone won’t bale, the way our system is designed, we could add a small amount of straw in with it, and then I’m confident it would bale.”

The company is currently working on an attachment to drop straw to allow easier baling, he added.

Manitoba Agriculture estimates chaff’s feed value between 38 and 49 per cent TDN for wheat, 47 to 59 per cent TDN for barley, 48 to 58 per cent TDN for oats and 38 to 46 per cent TDN for canola. Those levels drop by as much as eight per cent with the addition of straw.

The cart’s price tag has proven a little steep for producers until now, Obach admits, although he has been contacted by farmers interested in renting the cart this year and is currently negotiating price.

The company plans to launch a simplified version next year, expected to retail around $50,000.

Turning to annuals

Fields originally slated for cash crops are going to the cows, according to the province. Manitoba Agriculture has received widespread reports of poor grain fields being instead baled for animal feed.

That trend has extended to less usual crops such as soybeans or canola, provincial reports out of the northwest say.

Ray Bittner, provincial livestock specialist in the Interlake, says he has also heard of soybean and sunflower silage put up this year, although he has not got reports of other unusual feed plans so far.

“In some cases it’s mature, ready-to-combine products that they’re baling directly without combining it, and they’re doing it to save the chaff loss and to save weed seed loss and skinny kernel loss,” he said.

More corn silage went into the ground this year as producers predicted a poor hay harvest, he added, but even those stands are in question. The Interlake has got little timely rain for corn and almost none in the last month, Bittner said.

The northwest has a similar problem. The province reports that producers hope to take only 10 tons of corn silage off per acre, although greenfeed and grain silage have averaged normally so far.

Others, meanwhile, plan to extend grazing in the annual crop fields.

Brooks White, a bison producer near Pierson in the southwest, says he is relying on grazed cover crops, field residue and corn grazing to winter his herd, while other producers say they expect to stretch their grazing season with swath or stubble grazing.

Corn grazing is also the focus of a new producer-requested study at Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives north of Brandon this year. The applied research firm already winters its herd with corn grazing, but this year has added underseeded annuals and legumes in an effort to decrease the amount of supplemental hay added.

Despite the interest in novel feeds however, Bittner expects that producers will go back to more mainstream alternatives this year.

“Instead of kind of regional dryness problem, it’s more of an almost all-of-Manitoba widespread dryness problem,” he said. “You run out of novel things quite quickly and then you have to go back to the staples like oats, barley and corn and possibly some feed wheat that comes in skinny or poor quality.”

Planning the ration

Bittner has not heard of producers budgeting more for feed tests, although he says that is a natural reaction when a producer reaches for unfamiliar feed.

Last winter saw a noted uptick for Manitoba Agriculture staff advising on rations, livestock specialists reported.

The province is once again urging farmers to test their feed — not only for nutritive value, but for quality issues like nitrates — and to introduce any new feeds slowly over 10 to 14 days.

A spokesperson for the province also pointed to the province’s online resources, such as Manitoba Agriculture’s FeedPlan-Feed Ingredient Cost Calculator and fact sheet on managing low forage supplied during winter.

The Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association is ramping up its hay monitoring in light of a looming feed crisis.

John MacGregor, head of the MFGA’s hay monitoring program, has been asked to tap his network of contacts to help producers navigate the current feed market.

The first fall hay situation report and price information sheet was released Aug. 19.

“Presently there is limited information on hay prices throughout the province,” the first report read, adding that, “Prices at this time are very dependent on how the second and possible third cuts yield as well as how producers make up shortfalls in their forage requirements.”

Where a second cut was possible, MacGregor put yields at about 80 per cent of normal, still below average but better than most first-cut stands. Some areas are still hoping for a third cut, he added.

The report put good-quality alfalfa-grass bales anywhere from eight to 14 cents a pound and beef-quality bales at five to 10 cents a pound.

Duncan Morrison, MFGA executive director, says reports will eventually feed into a producer-led “one-stop shop” into the feed market.

“We’re not going to replace the Facebooks of the world,” Morrison said. “We’re not going to replace some of the interactions between producers, but if we can give people a suggestion that, you know, maybe southeastern Manitoba has had (better yields), there might be surplus there.”

Morrison added the group is “… trying to facilitate the exchange of information so that if a producer is indeed in crisis or starting to be very concerned…” they’ll be better able to find information about available feed sources.

The forage association has also followed suit with the Manitoba Beef Producers and Keystone Agricultural Producers. The two groups launched a joint web page for producers to post and find hay for sale. The site links to the provincial hay listings, forage sale sites and Facebook groups dedicated to forage sale.

A similar Hay Relief Page launched by the MFGA also points to provincial hay listings.

The MFGA is calling for producers to share forage yields and hay sale prices to improve their reports.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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