Source: Ontario, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
There are a number of strategies employed by livestock producers to incorporate feeds of differing value in a wintering program. A case often seen is a producer who has a good haylage as well as a mature hay source. On paper, these two feeds in combination have an average digestibility, energy and nitrogen content (crude protein) which produces a balanced diet. For example, the ration might require a 50:50 mix of the haylage and the hay.
On farm, the problem arises that feeds are often stored as large round or large square bales. The way many have dealt with this problem is by offering equal numbers of the two bales. For example, if four bales are fed per day, two would be high quality and two would be low. This leads to a problem of favouring larger cows in better condition as they will become the ‘boss cows’. The competition for feeding space will not let this system work. Just as the rich get richer, the fat get fatter. This competition is often not detected by the producer, as he/she is often too busy to spend extra time observing livestock until well after feed is delivered. The preferred method of dealing with this issue from the nutritional point of view would be a TMR.
An alternative method that is being researched at Ag-Canada’s Lacombe Research Station is giving preliminary results indicating that feeding the good feed one day, and the poor feed the next day is a very effective method for beef cows. The progress on this technique was reported by Duane McCartney during his speaking engagements at the 1998 Ontario Pasture Meetings (“Grass and Forage for Year-round Feeding”). This supports research results in growing animals, where protein levels could be alternated with good results. This system would allow the producer to feed only haylage on one day, and only hay the next to mature cows. Using the long turnover time seen in the rumen and the body’s ‘buffering’ ability, this system allows the animals to utilize the two or more feeds effectively as one ration. The Lacombe research is addressing feeding different forages and a concentrate energy or protein supplement on an alternating basis. With two winters of data, the practice is proving to be effective. Caution must be employed with concentrate that is alternated in and out of the daily feeding, as it may lead to acidosis when fed as more than 15% of the total (two day) diet (i.e. two days worth of grain in one feeding).
With the experiences of such research, the alternate feeding of forages, supplements and grain appears to be an effective means of offering two or more different feeds. This may be helpful in reducing the need for equipment use. Most importantly, it allows feeding two or more ‘big bale’ feeds without creating a feeding space competition that hurts young or thin cows and ewes.