With tight hay supplies and escalating prices, producers are scrounging for every bit of possible forage they can find. Given the extended drought, good or medium-quality hay may not be available or has been sold to others buying existing supplies.
One consideration for livestock producers may be the age-old process of feeding ammoniated low-quality hays or crop residues. Ammoniation can double or triple crude protein levels in crop residues such as straw and corn stalks and increase digestibility 10 to 30 percent, making them equivalent to prairie hay in feed value.
Ammoniation is fairly simple to do, but keep in mind these important considerations. Before you can ammoniate forages, they need to have ample moisture. That may be more of a challenge with many of this year’s forages, which reportedly have less than 10 percent moisture. The lack of moisture is attributable to the dry growing conditions and lower-than-usual humidity.
A low moisture content is great for putting up hay, but it likewise has left much of the hay drier than desirable for this process. Water is the key here. You will have to add water to tie up the nitrogen and keep from losing your expensive ammonia.
That brings up point No. 2: Ammonia fertilizer is not cheap. So if you proceed with ammoniation, you will want to do it correctly. That includes covering the stacks and applying only what you need.
Furthermore, as we move into cooler temperatures, the ammoniation process takes longer. Below 59 F, the minimum time to seal a stack is four to eight weeks. Lastly, working with anhydrous ammonia involves a safety factor that cannot be taken lightly. It is dangerous stuff, so be careful, and have the appropriate equipment on hand and use it.
Another alternative for salvaging harvest residue and fortifying low-quality forage for livestock feed is adding hydrated lime. Hydrated lime is quicklime (calcium oxide) with water added to make it calcium hydroxide. Calcium hydroxide is used in a variety of food applications, from pickling and preserving fruits and vegetables to adding calcium to fruit juices and baby formulas.
The first research on using hydrated lime was conducted on corn stover. Corn stover, in its most basic form, is made up of lignin, cellulose and hemi-cellulose. These elements are not particularly digestible. But new research has shown that a substantial portion of the grain in cattle feed can be replaced effectively with corn stover - the plant’s stalks, cobs and leaves - when these harvest residues are treated with hydrated lime.