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January 20, 2012

Feeding Wheat Straw

Wheat straw for beef cattle is an alternative for winter.

The shortage of decent hay for wintering cows, calves and yearlings has farmers scrambling for some type of replacement roughage. According to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri (MU) Extension, wheat straw may be an alternative most producers have not considered.

"Southwest Missouri does have some wheat straw available since the demand for it seems to be slumping along with the construction industry woes," says Cole.

Wheat straw is not a high protein or energy source, but if supplemented properly it can be used to feed bred cows that are in a body condition score (BCS) of 5 or 6. Cole says it can also comprise a sizeable portion of a fall-calving cow's diet when the calves are being hand- or creep-fed.

Wheat straw should not be expected to be a big part of diets for weaned calves.
Mature, bred cows can handle about 50% of their dry-matter intake in the straw form, says Cole. The other 50% should be comprised of grass or grass-legume hay and a high-energy protein concentrate supplement.

In some cases, Cole says up to 60% could come from the straw, but you do need to be watchful of protein, energy, minerals and vitamin A.

"Compared to some of the sorry hay I've seen in bale yards and on trucks headed south and west, wheat straw could even be an improvement in nutrient value. The book values I find for wheat straw are 3% on crude protein and 42% to 43% on total digestible nutrients," says Cole.

According to Cole, a producer can develop a nice ration using 15-18 pounds (lb.) of straw per day along with 8-10 lb. of fair to poor-quality grass hay and 5-6 lb. of dried distillers' grains (DDGS). This ration would be suitable for 1,100- to 1,200-lb. cows, average milk production the first 90 days after calving or for dry, pregnant cows.

Wheat straw can be ammoniated to enhance its intake and nutrient level. Adding anhydrous ammonia in this cool/cold weather requires that 30-60 days may be required to complete the ammonization process. Thus, straw treated in mid-December would not be ready to feed until early February.

"Years ago, wheat straw was a staple feed in southwest Missouri, along with old-processed soybean or cottonseed meal. It may be time to sharpen the pencil and do some comparison shopping for the various roughages and probably DDGS and corn-gluten feed as you plan for feeding the cow herd until green grass arrives," says Cole.

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