Feeding straw helps extend rations

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

Winter feed supply for the beef cow herd is an issue in many parts of Ontario. A combination of low forage yields and poor harvesting conditions have some farmers digging deep for feeding alternatives.
Getting the cows through the rest of this winter may be tough.
The following is the first of a two-part article on feeding straw to help extend rations.
One alternative available to many producers is to include straw in the ration. Good-quality straw is a surprisingly good energy source for ruminants.
With percent Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) values in the mid-40s, straw can be much more than just a filler—providing a significant proportion of energy needs.
However, straw is low in protein (only four-five percent) so the ration must include an adequate source of protein, along with the appropriate mineral mix and salt.
Oat straw is more palatable than barley straw while barley straw is more palatable than wheat straw.
Since oat straw also is the highest in energy content, it is the best choice for cow rations, followed by barley straw.
The best candidates for straw feeding are mature dry cows in good body condition, up to six weeks away from calving. These animals have the lowest nutritional requirements of any in the herd.
Save your best forages for bred heifers and young cows pregnant with their second calf, as well as for post-calving rations.
Thin cows should be grouped with the bred heifer group to enable them to consume enough nutrients for successful calving and re-breeding.
If you have access to some good quality hay (i.e., 16 percent protein), this can be fed in a 60/40 straw/hay mix to supply adequate energy and protein.
With an average quality hay (12 percent protein), go to a 50/50 mix, and with a low quality hay (nine percent protein), cut straw back to 30 percent of the ration.
The above rations work out fine on a calculator, but actually feeding them to the cows can be challenging.
Feeding straw and hay in separate feeders at the same time doesn’t work well. Cows usually will prefer the hay and will compete vigorously for the more palatable feed.
The dominant cows will get their fill of the good stuff, leaving the sub-dominant animals to make do with the lower-quality feed.
If a bale processor is available, chopping the higher and lower-quality bales together is ideal.
Feeding this mixture will prevent most of the sorting by the cows, and even if bunk space is limited, less aggressive animals will be well-fed.
Dates to remember
•Jan. 24—Rainy River Cattlemen’s Association AGM, 7 p.m., Our Lady of the Way, Stratton; and
•Jan. 31–Grower pesticide safety course, Emo (call 1-800-652-8573 to register).