Mehren says one of the toughest challenges is trying to stretch forage when hay or pasture isn’t available. Without some forage in the form of grass, hay, straw, etc., it’s hard to feed a proper ration, he says.

“I haven’t found any pellets that completely replace forages unless waste from a vegetable processing plant is available. In our region, ranchers buy corn cannery silage. We also do this with peas, carrots, onions and other vegetables,” Mehren says.

Another common byproduct is corn distillers waste. In the absence of feedbunks, it can be fed on the ground on old elevator belts, just like any other protein supplement.

If a rancher has nothing to feed cattle except released Conservation Reserve Program acres, wheat straw, or any low-quality forage, this can be balanced with a protein-energy supplement like distillers grain. “You just need some feedstuff that has a lot of nutrient kick in just a few pounds,” he explains.


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Mehren says wood chips may be a possibility someday. “We’ve done this experimentally and know certain woods can be treated and digested by cattle,” he says. In addition, certain species of sagebrush are palatable and nutritionally adequate as part of cattle diets during some times of year. In the right environment, cattle can be wintered on sagebrush, with a little supplement.

“With grinding, other types of sage may also work. Some of the plants and shrubs we thought were unwanted pests can be beneficial,” Mehren says. In Texas, for instance, research shows that juniper can be chipped and processed into wholesome livestock feed.

“The higher-quality feedstuffs we’ve traditionally depended on are now being bought by industries that can afford to pay more for it than livestock producers. Simple, inexpensive chemicals like calcium oxide can be used to treat some alternative feedstuffs, and we’ll eventually see more ingenuity applied to feedstuffs that we can feed cattle,” Mehren says. 

Heather Thomas is a freelance writer and rancher in Salmon, ID.


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