Steve Boyles, OSU Extension beef specialist, points out some alternative feedstuffs available to livestock producers faced with drought-induced feed shortages:

  • Cereal grains straw: Straw is an alternative if properly supplemented with energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Satisfactory supplements include cereal grains, crop processing co-products such as wheat midds, or high quality hays. Oat straw is the most palatable and nutritious, followed by barley straw and wheat straw. Rye straw has little feed value.

    Straw can constitute up to about 60% of the brood-cow ration but has only about half the value of hay in growing rations. Straw can be used in combination with other feeds as the major roughage for beef cows. Grinding straw can increase intake 10-15%. However, compaction can be a problem in diets with high levels of chopped straw. Straw that is a year or more old is usually more palatable and digestible than fresh straw.

  • Ammoniated straw: Straw is sometimes treated with 3% anhydrous ammonia to improve the feeding value. When limited amounts of hay or other roughages are available, ammoniation may be a cost-effective way to increase the value of straw. Ammoniated feeds should be analyzed prior to feeding to determine actual nutrient content. Energy supplementation may still be necessary after ammoniation, depending on the nutrient requirements of each particular set of livestock.

    Boyles says he's not aware of any toxicity cases with ammoniated straw, but several cases of toxicity with ammoniated forages have been reported. The calves of lactating cows were observed to have the following symptoms: hyper-excitability, circling, convulsions and death. The primary forages were: forage sorghum, sudangrass, cereal grain, brome, and fescue hay treated with ammonia.

  • Corn cobs: Corn cobs can be used as a ration ingredient in cow-maintenance diets. Corn cobs are low in protein (2.8%) but higher in total digestible nutrients (48%) than other crop residues such as wheat straw.

  • Cattails: Cattails have little feed value but can be fed in an emergency. Cattails cut at a relatively young age may be equivalent to straw in feeding value. Mature cattails are a poor feedstuff, being quite low in energy.
Editor's note: Check out for more on ammoniation and drought feeding. Click on "Drought Management" from the category list on the opening page.
-- OSU Extension Beef Team newsletter