Extend your grazing season with crop residues

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By John Hauer, Regional Forage Specialist, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Kindersley

Crop residue is chaff and straw from annual cereal, pulse, and oilseed crops. When collected and bunched into piles and fed in the field you extend your grazing season.

Conventional winter feeding cows in a feed yard is expensive, calculated to be $1.75/head/day or up to 60 per cent of the total cash costs of maintaining a cow herd. These costs include the costs of harvesting, handling and transporting the feed to the cow then removing the manure from the pen after. Crop residues are a by-product of the grain crop you have produced so other than the system to collect it there is little additional cost to produce the feed.

I feel using chaff and straw as a feed resource is often overlooked. As an added benefit, research at the Western Beef Development Centre at Lanigan has shown that a higher level of nitrogen is recycled and returned to the soil when livestock are fed in the field. This is in comparison to feeding the cows in confinement then hauling the manure to the field.

There are several collection systems which will collect just chaff or both chaff and straw together. One simple design is a chaff box. The box is built and mounted at the back of the combine. It is counterweighted to automatically dump 20 to 25 pound piles. These piles generally are eight to 12 inches high and four feet long. For plans to build a chaff box go to our “Crop Residue Collection for Field Grazing” factsheet on our website at www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca. Estimated cost to build this chaff box including both materials and labor was $500 at the time of writing this factsheet.

Another system is the “Whole Buncher” system. It is mounted at the back of your combine and automatically trips and deposits 40 to 60 pound piles of feed. It collects both straw and chaff together. These piles are approximately three feet high and five feet long. The Whole Buncher is patented and sold by AJ Manufacturing in Alberta.

The feed value of crop residues depends greatly on the grain crop you collect the residue from and the conditions during which you harvested this residue (i.e. how much grain and cracked grain you include in the chaff and straw). Feed test the residue material and plan the feeding accordingly. If possible limit the cattle to only the feed they will consume in a three day period. Depending on weather conditions during feeding and what levels of nutrients are in the residue feed you may have to supplement this residue feed with a little grain or hay.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association Conference and Tour based in Olds, AB. On the tour we visited several different ranches. One ranch, operated by Scott and Terrie Copley uses a straw and chaff buncher. Copley has found that with straw-chaff bunches the straw and chaff are mixed in the pile. This forces the cattle to consume both chaff and straw together, not just chaff that is laid on top of the windrow with a different collection system. The piles are large enough that the cattle find them even through snow cover and small enough that they clean them up well so next year’s seeding is not impeded. He estimates, for his operation located around Airdrie, this extensive feeding system saves him about $100 per acre. This saving is based on costs like fuel, labor, land and equipment - costs he would incur if he was using traditional dry lot feeding for his cow herd. The Copleys also feel their cows are in “better physical shape” after walking and foraging in the residue fields during the winter so they have an easier time during the calving season.

For more information on the benefits and savings from Crop Residue Collection for Field Grazing go to our website at www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca, or contact John Hauer, Regional Forage Specialist, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture at the Kindersley Regional Office at 306 463-5507.

Organizations: Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Western Beef Development Centre, Canadian Forage and Grassland Association

Geographic location: Alberta, Saskatchewan

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