Feeding straw helps extend rations

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

The following is the conclusion of a two-part article on feeding straw to help extend rations:
An alternative to processing is to feed the different roughage sources on alternate days.
With enough feeder space, all of the cows will be able to consume their fill of high-quality forage on one day, and max out on low-quality feed the next.
In order to prevent waste, match the daily amount of feed offered to the consumption level of the group.
If hay is not available, straw can be used as the only roughage source—as long as an adequate grain mix also is fed. An example ration would be free choice barley or oat straw, five pounds of corn grain, and one pound of 40 percent protein supplement (offer a 2:1 mineral free choice).
Feeding grain or concentrate to beef cows, however, is easier said than done! The grain should be fed whole or coarsely processed so it does not digest too quickly.
And it is essential that all cows have access to the grain at the same time. If this doesn’t happen, the dominant cows will eat all of it (possibly getting into grain overload), with timid cows left to sniff at the dust left behind.
For a small number of cows and a small amount of concentrate, you can pail it out in a rough lumber bunk as long as you can keep ahead of the cows! For larger numbers, you need some kind of fenceline feeder or long bunk with mechanized feed delivery.
When roughage sources such as hay or straw are in very short supply or very expensive, feeding a ration where grain supplies most of the nutrients, and the forage source is limit-fed, is an option.
In this case, feeding management has to be exceptional to avoid unequal consumption and resultant digestive upsets. Each cow needs to consume a minimum of five pounds of palatable hay each day to provide sufficient fibre for proper rumen function.
The forage should be fed prior to the concentrate to minimize the potential of grain overload. An example ration would be six pounds of hay, nine pounds of corn grain, two pounds of 40 percent protein supplement, and 0.2 pounds of limestone.
Since total dry matter intake will be much less than the maximum for these cows, they will feel like they haven’t had enough and may bawl for feed or eat twigs in an attempt to satisfy their appetite.
Using alternative feed sources such as straw and concentrates can allow beef cow-calf managers to stretch their conventional forage sources.
Cost out the alternatives to come up with the best plan for your operation.