Alternative feeds can cause health issues

Too much sulphur can lead to polio and a shortage of nitrogen can reduce feed intake


Using unusual feeds such as canola, straw, and slough hay increases the need for feed testing, says a provincial forage specialist.

“Knowing the quality of the forage being used this winter is going to be critical to make it through on a short feed supply,” said Barry Yaremcio.

Many canola crops being cut for silage or greenfeed contain large amounts of second growth. Like any forage, they should be tested for the standard nutrients: protein; acid detergent fibre; neutral detergent fibre; calcium; phosphorus; magnesium; potassium, and, sodium.

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Keep a special watch for certain nutrients, said Yaremcio.

“Canola is known to have the potential to contain higher nitrate levels, as it’s fertilized more than other crops,” he said. “Canola greenfeed or silage can also contain high levels of sulphur. If sulphur levels are too high there could be occurrences of polio in animals.”

Testing done so far this season on greenfeeds and first-cut hay has shown a decrease in protein content from average levels.

“This is partly due to the fact that plants tend to mature two to three weeks faster than normal in a dry year which increases fibre levels and reduces protein content,” he said.

“If you’re short of protein, the first thing that happens is the microbes in the rumen are not able to repopulate themselves as quickly as they should. Therefore, the animals can’t digest the fibres and feed remains in the rumen longer than normal. Over time, feed intake is reduced five to 10 per cent. Even though the animal may appear full, the amount of feed consumed isn’t enough and performance will be impaired.”

Many farmers are also facing restricted feed availability this year, so knowing how much of a good-quality feed to mix with pea straw, cereal straw, or slough hay is critical to achieving proper nutritional balance. There may be some situations where it will be more economical to move the animals to feed rather than feed to the animals.

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