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Feed Substitutes Can Help Fight Hay Shortage

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Written Friday, April 04, 1997  

Livestock producers who are running short of hay should consider using alternative feeds as economical substitutes, says Ohio State livestock specialist Steve Boyles.

Farmers can use feed grain, soybean hulls or corn gluten feed until pastures are ready or until their first hay cutting, he says.

Cattle can get adequate nutrition with a reformulated ration, which may include part hay or no hay. However, producers must limit grain use because it often costs more per pound than hay.

"Substituting grain for hay is economical when roughages are in short supply," Boyles says. "The most economical diets are those diets that have almost no hay at all."

Boyles also says producers need to evaluate feeding facilities before buying alternate feed. Alternates may require buying feed bunks or fencing, which isn't practical in the short term. Also, some feed substitutes come in various forms, such as liquids, that are difficult or impossible to handle with existing equipment.


OSU researcher Steve Loerch found that cattle averaged a 1,300- pound gain on a late-fall diet of 2 pounds hay, 2 pounds supplement and 12 pounds whole-shelled corn. He increased the corn to 14 pounds between January and spring turnout, keeping the other parts the same.

Producers with less-secure facilities should feed a half pound of hay per 100 pounds body weight -- about 5 to 6 pounds per day. The grain portion should be 8 to 12 pounds per day, with lesser conditioned cows getting higher amounts.

Pregnant cows on low-quality forages need protein supplementation two months before calving. Lactating beef cows can be fed a 50 percent straw-based diet without rumen-impaction problems.

Beef cows on winter range or old hay may need vitamin A. It can be included in the protein or energy supplement, in the mineral source, or even injected into the animal. Grain diets also lack calcium, so it, too, should be supplemented.

During feeding, animals should be sorted according to their nutritional needs. Heifers and old cows should be in one group and other cows in another. This allows each cow a fair chance to eat.


Soybean hulls have high fiber and energy values. They have been shown to enhance performance of backgrounded calves feeding on a winter forage-based diet. Also, supplementation with high-fiber feeds enhances animals' forage use. However, soyhulls -- whole or ground -- are lightweight, so caution is needed when handling the feed in livestock buildings or in windy conditions.

One study showed that feeding 4 pounds of soyhulls from December through March saved about 625 pounds of hay per cow. Cow weight loss was only 13 pounds on soyhulls compared to 86 pounds on forage.

Research shows that growing animals that are on forage-based diets will gain comparably well when soyhulls are substituted for the corn portion of the ration. However, animals in feedlots don't convert feed as well when soyhulls are used for corn. Differences in feed costs will determine which is the most economical choice.


Corn gluten feed, not to be confused with corn gluten meal, is another high-fiber, high-energy feed substitute. The wet form has some nutritional benefits over the dry form, but the latter is easier to handle. Wet corn gluten feed has a warm-weather bunk life of several days compared to two weeks in cold weather.

Nutrient values vary considerably by batch, so corn gluten feed should be regularly tested to ensure nutrient levels. For example, crude protein values have ranged from 17 percent to 26 percent, and fat content has ranged from 1 percent to 7 percent.

Also, calcium is low relative to phosphorous in corn gluten feed, so calcium levels should be above recommended requirements when corn gluten feed makes up more than one-third of the diet. Failure to supplement could result in urinary calculi problems.

There is some concern about polioencephalomalacia when corn gluten feed is used in the diet. Although there is one unconfirmed case on record, one might consider 40 milligrams thiamine per head as a daily preventative supplement.

As a protein source, corn gluten feed meets similar requirements as soybean meal. However the quality of amino acid content is lower in dried corn gluten feed.

As an energy source, corn gluten feed has similar value as corn grain in forage-based diet. Corn grain itself has a higher energy content, though. Corn gluten feed does not appear to depress forage (fiber) digestibility compared to corn grain which can depress digestibility.


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