Planning to avoid a feed shortage

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry
Tuesday, 15 May 2018
By Alberta Agriculture and Forestry
Pastures and hayland were stressed last year due to dry conditions, grasshoppers, over grazing, and a long winter. Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry looks at how producers can plan this spring to avoid a feed shortage next winter. “It is difficult to estimate how the stands will respond this spring or what the yield potential is for this year,” Yaremcio says. “With many feed yards and silage pits nearly empty or empty, the amount of carryover feed for the winter of 2018-19 is minimal.”

Moisture conditions this spring are variable. Some areas are good to excellent while other areas are drier. Long range weather forecasts for this summer are for a warmer, drier growing season. “To reduce the risk of not having sufficient amounts of forage for next winter, consider planting an annual crop for use as additional pasture, green feed, or silage,” Yaremcio says.

A number of seeding options are available, including seeding crops early in the season which increases yield potential by taking advantage of available spring moisture. “Instead of planting the crop in early to mid-June, seed as soon as possible in May,” explains Yaremcio. “Oats and triticale are considered more drought resistant than barley. Cutting the oats and triticale for green feed or silage should be done at the late milk to early dough stage to maintain quality. Leave the stubble stand. It is possible that some regrowth may occur if there is a late season rain event.”

Including a winter annual such as fall rye, along with the cereal crop this spring, allows the winter annuals to start growing in May or June. “The advantage is the winter annual can produce additional vegetative forage growth late in the growing season after the cereal crop is cut for silage or green feed,” says Yaremcio. “The winter annuals have a growth spurt in August and September which produces high quality forage. It allows the cows to graze longer which helps keep them in good condition and maintains growth rates on the calves. Moving stock onto the winter cereal allows the perennial pastures to rest and be under less stress going into winter. If the winter cereal survives, there could be some very early season growth which would allow grazing and provide more time for the perennial forage to grow to the proper stage of development before it is grazed.”

“We don’t know what forage prices will be next fall, but if the weather does not co-operate this summer, it is unlikely that prices will be lower than what we are experiencing this spring. If the annual crop produces eight tons of silage or 3.2 tons of green feed, value of the crop is roughly $360 per acre when silage is $45 per ton and $320 per acre when green feed is five cents a pound. Compare this to an 80-bushel crop of barley valued at $5 per bushel generating $400 per acre in cash returns. It is a disadvantage when the cash crop is used for forage production. Tame hay yields could also be reduced in a dry year.”

Yaremcio adds, “If feed supplies are short this fall, it might be difficult to source forage from neighbours or within a reasonable distance from the farm or ranch. Cost of transporting forage from further away by Super B loads is roughly $5 per loaded mile. It does not take a long for freight to cost more than the cash difference of using land for silage or green feed instead of cash crops.”

For more information, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

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