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Agriculture

Program Contact: Mark Heitstuman, Director
(509) 243-2009 • mark.heitstuman@wsu.edu

Feeding Straw to Beef Cows

This year has been terrible in terms of hay and forage production.  I have heard many reports of drastically reduced forage yields.  Some of the best reports were hay crops that were 50% of normal, but most of the producers I have spoken to indicate that the yield is a quarter to a third of what is produced on a normal year.

Why did this happen? 

A couple of major events caused this to happen. First, we have been extremely dry since April.  Rainfall amounts have been way below normal. In addition, there were many nights that had low temperatures around the freezing mark in late April and May.  Add these factors together and we have very limited grass and forage growth which has resulted in a tremendous shortage of forage in Northern Idaho.

Many cattle producers are trying to locate hay to buy, but there just isn’t any available locally.  I have already heard of hay prices out of the area hitting $300 a ton and more.  At these prices, it will take the profit right out of the cattle business.

Cattle producers may want to consider buying and feeding straw as a substitute for hay this winter.  Straw can be successfully fed to beef cows during the winter as a portion of the winter cow ration.  Producers will have to balance the ration with proper supplements, vitamins and minerals to meet the cow’s nutrient requirements.

Which Straw is Best to Feed?

According to Dr. Reid Redden, Extension Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, oat straw is the most palatable and nutritious, followed by barley straw.  Wheat straw has the lowest nutritional value of the main cereal crops.  Dr. Redden put together the following table outlining the nutrient content of straws common to our area:

Nutrient Content of Barley, Oat and Wheat Straw:

Straw DM % TDN % NEm CP % ADF %
Barley 90 43 0.38 4.1 52
Oats 90 47 0.45 4.5 50
Wheat 90 43 0.4 3.6 52

As you can see in the table, all the straws are low in crude protein and energy.  Feeding straw as the only source of forage will not meet the nutrient requirements of cattle.

How Much Straw Can Be Fed?

Beef cows can utilize straw very well, in fact, rations can contain 50 to 60% straw if combined with a high energy feed and a feed high in crude protein.

Dr. Roger Brownson, former Beef Cattle Specialist at Montana State University, authored a publication entitled, Emergency Rations for Wintering Beef Cows, that can be found in the Cattle Producer’s Library.  In this publication, Brownson provided sample rations for dry pregnant cows weighing 1000 pounds and rations for 1,100-pound cows nursing calves.  Below are a couple of rations suggested by Dr. Brownson:

1000-pound pregnant cows

Feed Intake CP Energy (ME)
(lb) (lb) (Mcal)
Daily requirement 19.6 1.6 17.3
Ration #1
Straw 11 0.3 7.4
Alfalfa hay 11 1.6 10.4
    Total 22 1.9 17.8
Ration #2
Straw 12 0.4 7.4
Barley grain 6 0.7 8.1
20% supplement 1 0.2 1.4
    Total 19 1.3 16.9

Ration #2 is marginal in protein and energy.  Additional intake is needed and or more protein should be added in order to meet the requirements.

1,100-pound cows nursing calves

Feed Intake CP Energy (ME)
(lb) (lb) (Mccal)
Daily requirement 21.6 2 19.9
Ration #1
Straw 10 0.3 6.7
Alfalfa hay 14 2.1 13.3
    Total 24 2.4 20
Ration #2
Straw 12 0.4 7.4
Barley grain 7 0.8 16.3
20% supplement 2 0.8 2.8
    Total 21 2 26.5

All these rations included free choice mineral and vitamin supplements

The rations listed above were formulated for small cows.  Most of the mature cows in north central Idaho are much bigger than the 1000-pound cows listed in the example.  Larger cows will have a different intake and nutrient requirements than what is listed in the example.

How Much Does Straw Cost?

I don’t have an answer for that.  It will be higher than in years past but still considerably cheaper than hay right now.  Normal years the cost would be somewhere between $40 to $50 per ton.

Wheat, barley and oat yields will be lower this year as well.  Some grain growers may be interested in selling straw to offset the loss in income from reduced yields.  They may allow for the harvest of straw especially if they don’t have to do any of the baling and hauling.

Summary:

The shortage of hay will challenge cattle producers this year.  There are forage options available for cattle producers and straw is one of those options.  In the past, our ancestors fed a lot of straw during the winter months in this part of the country.

As was outlined in this article, straw can be fed successfully to beef cows. Straw can be used in combination with grass hay, alfalfa, barley, corn, soybean meal, canola meal, commercial protein supplements and much more.  There are many combinations that can be used to balance a ration.  If straw is used in the ration, it will be critical that the cows are on a good vitamin and mineral supplementation program.

Good luck as we work through this difficult year.

(References are available upon request)

Jim Church
University of Idaho, Idaho County Extension
208-983-2667
jchurch@uidaho.edu

 

Animal Alert: Heat Stress in Livestock

Date:  June 24, 2021

From:  Donald A. Llewellyn, Ph.D.
Associate Professor/Livestock Extension Specialist
Washington State University Extension
don.llewellyn@wsu.edu   509-335-8759

Craig McConnel, DVM, Ph.D.
Associated Professor/Veterinary Medicine Extension
Washington State University Extension
cmcconnel@wsu.edu  509-335-0766

A heat wave is expected to engulf much of the Inland Northwest over the next week with daytime temperatures above 100 degrees in many areas.  These temperatures will put livestock and pet well-being at risk.  Commercial producers and youth with animal projects should prepare now for the upcoming heat and dangerous conditions.  Here are a few general suggestions to keep your animals safe, but also keep in mind each of the various species of domesticated animals with have specific needs.

  • Avoid stressful handling of livestock and if necessary only do so in the early morning hours or late in the evening.
  • If animals are in a barn or shed, ensure that they have proper ventilation and air circulation.
  • For animals outside, provide shade if possible.
  • Provide a continuous supply of cool, clean water.

Water is an important factor in allowing animals’ bodies to cool down and stay cool.  Sufficient water is particularly important for animals that are lactating or pregnant to ensure health of the nursing young and health of offspring at birth.  Watch for signs of dehydration (e.g. lethargy, drying of the mucous membranes and eyes, or eyes that appear sunken and dull).  Clean water is also important: Note that excessive heat and stagnant water can promote blue-green algae growth which has shown to be toxic to livestock, wildlife, and humans.  More information on blue-green algae can be found at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/livestock/cyanobacteria-poisoning-blue-green-algae. The following table provides some insight into the amount of water and feed required by livestock.

Remember that during times of heat stress, it may be necessary to reduce the energy intake (e.g. grains and concentrates) and increase fiber in the diets of animals such as 4-H steers and lambs to help mitigate heat stress.  In addition, endophyte infected forages (e.g. fescue or other forages or crop residues containing endophyte) should be avoided as they may exacerbate heat stress in cattle.

Heat stress can also be made worse by high humidity.  Animals find it more difficult to cool during times of high humidity.  In general, the Inland Northwest does not experience high humidity during the summer.  However, west of the Cascade Range the marine environment is more prone to higher humidity.  In addition, areas to the east of the Cascade Range with vast areas of irrigated farmland are an exception and can experience higher humidity.

During and following heat stress, watch for signs of respiratory disease and digestive disorders in livestock.  Wide temperature swings between day and night (say 40 degrees or more) can predispose livestock to infection.

Finally, high temperatures with low humidity increase the likelihood of wildfires across our region.  Have an emergency plan in place to guide you in times of high temperatures and also for disaster preparedness such as wildfires.   If you need assistance navigating this heat wave please contact your WSU Extension Specialists, County Extension Educators, Extension Veterinarians, or your local veterinarian.  Our animals depend on us!

Asotin County Agriculture

Agriculture Links

Investing for Farm Families
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Washington Agricultural Weather Network
(AgWeatherNet/AWN) provides access to raw weather data from the Washington State University weather network, along with decision aids.

Washington State Crop Improvement Association (Certified Seed Buying Guide)

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

USDA Weekly Weather and Climate

WSU Wheat Variety Testing results:

2020 Soft White Winter Wheat
2020 Hard Red Winter Wheat

 

Agriculture Newsletters

WSU Agriculture – “On Solid Ground”

WSU Ag Animal Health Newsletter

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