Drought-challenged dairy producers facing forage shortages may be able to feed their cows canola and related crops, provided they take certain precautions.
"Recent rains were spotty, and encroaching drought in North Dakota has livestock producers scrambling for much-needed forage," says J.W. Schroeder, North Dakota State University Extension Service dairy specialist. "Dairy managers are particularly concerned about feed shortages because they rely on high-quality forage to make milk. The drought elsewhere will result in greater competition for locally grown forages."
For North Dakota producers, crop aftermath, crops zeroed out for insurance purposes and regrowth of harvested crops stimulated by late-season rains may offer additional forage for certain classes of livestock. Crops that could be fed to cattle include canola and related crops such as brown, yellow and Oriental mustard.
"While these crops make palatable feed, it may take one or two days for cattle to become accustomed to their taste," Schroeder says.
If canola is hayed, drying time is critical to avoid moldy feed later, he says.
Typically, the plants take four to six days to dry to proper moisture levels (16 to 18 percent moisture content) for baling. Canola tends to turn dark as it cures, but this shouldn't affect palatability.
However, cattle resist eating stemmy canola forage, Canadian producers report.
They believe the forage is unpalatable because of its high sulfur content. Some producers also noted that dairy cattle diets high in canola forage resulted in an undesirable taste in the milk.
"Given the high cost of fuel, evaluate the field closest to you before spending money to bale and haul what might have limited use," Schroeder advises dairy producers.
A better option may be to ensile the canola if it is leafy and has some height, although canola is high in moisture (75 to 80 percent) and wilting it to 65 percent moisture will take time, he says. Harvesting a mixture of the mature stand and the regrowth will reduce the moisture, and crimping will hasten the drying process.
Also, ensiling will reduce nitrate content by 30 to 70 percent, making feeds that are high in nitrate safe to feed.
However, feeding canola creates some risks. Canola can cause bloat in some instances. Also, some producers have noticed that cattle tend to develop scours when fed canola hay or silage as the only source of roughage. Schroeder says canola hay or silage should not make up more than 50 to 60 percent of the total feed intake on an as-fed basis.