Canola hay can be a suitable feed alternative for livestock during a drought year, but experts say producers should feed it with caution as the margin for error is a lot finer.
Agriculture Victoria dairy extension officer Brett Davidson said in palatability trials conducted at The University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus, canola hay was actually the preferred choice for cattle out of all other hay options of varied quality.
Mr Davidson said with drought ravaging much of the state and country, canola hay would be a valuable, cheap protein source for many producers.
But he urged growers to conduct feed and weight tests to ensure quality was maintained.
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One important measurement that growers should be monitoring on their feed tests was the Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF), which determined how much fibre was in the sample.
“A general rule of thumb is the bigger the number, the longer it’s going to take to pass through the animal,” he said.
“But with high figures, animals can actually fill themselves up and still lose body condition.”
He said his cut off point was 60 per cent, but an average of 41pc would be ideal.
In monitoring the Estimated Metabolisable Energy (EME), growers should be aiming for 8.5-10MJ/kg.
Crude Protein (CP) was also important, and if you were trying to get animals to grow or perform, he said they would require 14pc of protein in their diets.
He advised against feeding hay with any less than 10pc of protein for any class of animal.
“Going into a long, dry year, I’d hope people are trying to find some pretty good fodder around for a good proportion of their diets,” he said.
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Mr Davidson said to avoid issues with mould and toxins, “air’s the enemy”, so pack tightly.
He said this was what gave canola a bad name during a similar situation in 2006 where growers were using poor machinery to pack.
“Mould and toxins can come through in any feed, but canola is quite a spongy product so there is a slightly higher risk [of contamination] than in other crops,” he said.
“If you’ve got round bales, you need to be going along and making sure that the plastic isn’t compromised or punctured.”
He said in a drought year, it is more important than ever to be avoiding wastage.
“Obviously we’re paying a lot for feed this year, so just be careful with your method of feeding,” he said.
He advised using hay rings, with enough head spacing, to ensure most of the hay was being eaten, as opposed to feeding hay on the ground.
He also said monitor livestock for complications when feeding canola hay.
“All feeds do have limitations; if animals are getting too much of one thing for a long period, there is a slight increased risk of complications,” he said.
He said if this was the case, “dilution is the solution”.
“Blend it 50/50 with something else,” he said.
He said if producers were having any other issues, to seek advice from a vet or nutritionist.
“Certainly the pub’s got some good advice on some things, but when we’re talking about nutrition, I hope you’d be trying to [talk to] someone that’s qualified,” he said.
Are you cutting canola for hay? Let us know how it is going in the comments below.