Wednesday, 17 August 2016 13:50

Feed testing should be routine for producers

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While feed testing is important all the time, producers should be particularly meticulous this year in light of the extreme weather, including hail damage, seen in some southern Alberta crops.


“Any time there is is stress on crops such as hail or frost, it is an issue,” says Andrea Hanson, beef extension specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
“This year being that, number one there has been lots of hail in Alberta and (producers) are dealing with that, and even an overabundance of rain, both are factors that can create a nitrate situation.”
Usually annual plants will be more likely to have higher nitrate levels when stressed, compared to perennial crops. An annual plant’s focus is on setting seed. If a plant is stressed it won’t photosynthesize the same, explains Hanson. The plant’s roots will continue to push up nitrogen into the plant as if it is growing at the same rate, even if it isn’t because of stress such as hail damage. Those nitrates accumulate in the plant.
High concentrations of nitrates in feed for animals, especially rumens such as cattle, can be deadly.
“There are nitrates in plants naturally,” she points out. “Typically nitrates get converted (to nitrites), then ammonia and are excreted in urine.”
If there is a high concentration of nitrates initially, not all can be converted by the animal and nitrites will instead enter the blood stream. Nitrate poisoning occurs when the nitrite level in the rumen exceeds the capacity of the microbes to convert it to ammonia. This affects oxygenation of the blood and can result in symptoms that are similar to carbon monoxide poisoning, including an increased heart rate, muscle tremors, vomiting, and laboured breathing. An animal may start to stagger and the area around the lips turn blue from lack of oxygen. The worst case scenario is that the animal will die.
“I would always encourage feed tests to begin with,” points out Hanson, adding this year because of the weather conditions, producers should especially be taking that extra step to know what they are feeding their animals.
“At times, producers can end up overfeeding for certain nutrients. If they have a feed test done, they may be able to stretch out their feeds with ration balancing,” says Hanson. “Feed costs are our highest costs in cattle production, so if we can find ways to reduce those costs, that just makes a lot of sense.”
When feed is tested and a high nitrate level found, producers should speak with their local feed company representatives to determine the right ration for their animals.
“You can dilute it out with other feeds, but you just need to have a plan in place,” points out Hanson about the fact the feed can still be used.
Depending on when in the growing season plants become stressed, there is still the possibility of them being able to recover and nitrate levels decreasing. This wouldn’t be known without feed testing.
If a damaged crop is bailed up and has high nitrate levels, then those nitrates become trapped in the bails so again, feed testing is important.
“I would encourage any producers who are buying feed to get an analysis done so they know what they are buying. The colour may be good, but that doesn’t tell you how much protein is in it,” Hanson points out. “Feed testing is a just a good practice to get into. It gives a much better idea of the material you’ve got.”
More information about feed testing can be found online at: http://www1.foragebeef.ca/$foragebeef/frgebeef.nsf/all/ccf11.
Information about nitrate poisoning and feeding nitrate feeds to livestock can be found online at: http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex851.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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