Oklahoma farmers are getting creative with alternative forage crops this fall because drought has dramatically reduced normal hay yields.
“It’s been an unusual year and all summer crops can fail,” said Todd Baughman, row crop weed specialist at Oklahoma State University. “Producers need to make sure they’re in agreement with insurance companies and have the ability to turn that product into feed or forage value.”
Some producers prefer to harvest failed summer crops such as soybeans or cotton. However, anything that can be blown by the winds and fed as grass is not safe for livestock. Individual producers and hay customers should research the chemicals applied to crops before turning a field into forage or forage.
Baughman said most of the plants that failed this year received herbicide treatments, but contained fewer fungicides or insecticides.
“The biggest problem is that each individual label is different in terms of what you can or can’t do from a feed, forage or hay standpoint,” he said. “Even within that particular label, it can vary between crops. For example, you might have a seven-day limit or a 30-day limit for corn or grain sorghum, or you can’t even feed cotton or soybeans.”
Baughman says there are two main things to keep in mind when reading labels:
- The specific pesticide label of the product being applied should be checked, not just a label with a similar active ingredient. For example, if a generic form of glyphosate is applied instead of Roundup, producers must refer to the label of the specific glyphosate formulation, not Roundup.
- Products such as atrazine and 2,4-D have individual labels, but if a premix of the two products is applied, this may change the feeding limits. Therefore, the actual premix label should be consulted.
“The most important thing is to consult the label,” Baughman said. “If there’s no mention of feed or grass on the label for a particular product, that’s an off-label use.”
Failed cotton can help extend the grazing season, replace grass and provide additional income for the operation. Dave Lalman, OSU Extension beef cattle specialist, and Marty New, western region livestock specialist, said the seed, lint, stem and leaf components of the cotton plant are a nutritious forage source, but will not consume much of the cattle. the field is first overgrazed.
“When the lower leaves start to turn yellow, the leaf material will decrease rapidly,” New said. “Most cotton fields will provide forage for additional grazing in the form of grass or hay around field edges, fences and waterways.”
Leaf, bark, lint and seed should average 15-20% protein and about 55-60% total digestible nutrients, which equates to total energy in an average quality haylage, Lalman said.
According to OSU Extension experts, studies show that an acre of a poor cotton crop can provide about 20 days of pasture per cow, and an acre of a good crop can provide about 41 days of pasture per cow.
“Cattle will first graze on plant components that are more palatable and have higher nutritional value,” New said. “For this reason, the grazing period can be extended by strip grazing or rotational grazing. In order to use crop residues with maximum efficiency, a grazing area of no more than one week should be offered for each grazing period.”
Producers should also consider the possibility of gossypol toxicity when feeding failed cotton. Gossypol is a natural toxin present in the cotton plant that protects it from insects.
“Ruminants with fully functional rumens can detoxify gossypol because ruminal microorganisms bind the toxin so it can be absorbed,” Lalman said. “Ruminants and ruminant calves (less than four months old) cannot tolerate gossypol disease. It is not recommended to graze cotton residue with breeding bulls for 60-90 days of the breeding season.”
Labels for pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides can be confusing and hard to find on the packaging. OSU Extension county educators can help explain label restrictions and address concerns.
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