Farmers may treat low-quality forage
Treating low-quality forage with anhydrous ammonia can improve nutritional value for feed.
Published: Jul 27, 2012
With drought-stressed pastures and hay shortages, cattlemen with limited forage supplies may be forced to use crop residue, such as wheat straw or cornstalks, or other low-quality forages as feed, according to Paul Walker, animal science professor at Illinois State University.
Walker offered several recommendations for feeding low-quality forages.
“Low-quality forages’ major limitations are their deficiencies in crude protein and digestible energy,” Walker said. Research done in the 1980s showed treating low-quality forage with anhydrous ammonia will raise crude protein content by 6 to 8 percentage points, increase digestibility by 5 to 7 percentage points, and increase intake by 20 percent.
By treating the forage with ammonia, it no longer will be deficient in crude protein, and the animals will be able to consume additional energy because of improved digestibility, Walker noted.
He emphasized the value of the treated forage must offset the costs of the treatment process and the treated forage must be the least-cost method to meet the animals’ nutritional needs.
“It is very important for producers considering ammoniation to carefully consider the economics of the process,” Walker stressed.
The three costs associated with ammonia treatment of low-quality forage are: harvest or purchase of the forage, cost of the ammonia treatment, and cost of an enclosure.
Ammonia must be applied within a sealed enclosure to prevent vaporization into the atmosphere, Walker noted. Also treated forages cannot be exposed to precipitation. Plastic sheeting, bale tubes, or a plastic greenhouse or shed must be used for treatment and storage.
Walker estimated the costs will range from $16 to $24 a ton, excluding the cost of additional labor or machinery needed to move the forage into and out of the treatment and storage sites.
Walker advised applying anhydrous ammonia at a rate equal to 3 percent of forage dry matter or 60 pounds per dry ton of forage. If anhydrous costs about $830 per ton or 41.5 cents per pound, it would add $24.90 to every ton of forage or about $12.45 to each 1,000-pound round bale of straw.
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