Use a Sharp Pencil for Protein and Profits

Last week, I attended the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory 19th Annual Open House.  There, agricultural economist Jim Robb touched on the hardships of the drought and forage and pasture availability but drove home the importance of affordable protein supplementation.

Jim Robb showed that corn prices have remained steady and are projected to continue along that trend.  Dried distillers’ grains (DDG), which have become increasingly common as an on pasture protein supplementation, are projected to increase in price in the coming year.  The average protein content of DDGS is about 30% on a dry basis.  Robb, then went on to point out that the price of whole soybeans has decreased with the trade and tariff turmoil leaving soybean meal (SBM) overpriced. Robb suggested that this showed SBM will likely decrease in price making it a more affordable option for protein supplementation.  The average protein content of whole soybeans is 40% on a dry basis.  The protein content of SBM can range from 53-45% on a dry basis depending on processing technique.  In southern states such as Texas and Oklahoma where the cotton crop was large this year, producers have already began feeding whole cotton seeds and cotton seed meal as a cheaper available option for protein supplementation.  The crude protein content of whole cotton seeds and cotton seed meal is about 23% and  45% protein on a dry basis respectively. Robb expects these cotton sources will be shipped and available further north soon.

Jim Robb advised producers to put a sharp pencil to paper when determining their protein supplementation programs for the winter this year.  Not only does this include comparing the prices of each available feed, but the nutrients as well.  To determine the most profitable scheme, producers should test their forage sources.  Using the nutritional information from the forage report and the extimated dry matter intake for the class of animal to be fed, compare the amount available protein supplements needs as it will vary due to differences in protein content as well as the overall price to supplement. Choose the cheapest possible option and avoid over or under supplementation.  Ward Laboratories Inc. can assist with all your forage and supplemental feed testing needs and questions in the coming months.  Testing forages to determine supplementation strategies typical results in more profit.

Prussic Acid and Nitrates in Sorghum and Sudan Grasses: Proper Sampling for Grazing Animals

Often, Ward Laboratories, Inc receives sorghum samples and producers want us to test prussic acid and nitrates.  My recommendation would be to send two separate samples when testing for grazing purposes because prussic acid and nitrates accumulate in different parts of the plant. Prussic acid accumulatesin the leaves of the grass in contrast to nitrate which accumulates in the plants lower stock.

Prussic acid is also known as hydrogen cyanide (HCN).  The compound is present in the leaves of the plants in a compound called dhurrin.  Under normal conditions, plant membranes separate dhurrin from the enzyme responsible for hydrolyzing HCN from dhurrin. Monogastric animals and hindgut fermenters such as swine and horses, typically do not have an issue with prussic acid poisoning as stomach acid deactivates the enzyme.  However, ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats, are more susceptible to prussic acid poisoning due to the chewing of their cud.  As those animals ruminate, the cell membranes are damaged allowing the enzyme access to dhurrin, thereby releasing HCN into the rumen.  The HCN is then absorbed directly into the bloodstream where is binds hemoglobin.  The bound hemoglobin can not transfer oxygen to individual cells and death by asphyxiation is the result.

An additional risk for prussic acid poisioning is posed by stressed and damaged plants , this is when it becomes toxic to non-ruminant livestock.  Drought stressed plants may accumulate more unbound HCN in their leaves.  Frost damaged plants also have unbound HCN in their leaves due to the frost having broken the cell membranes allowing enzyme access to dhurrin.  In the case of frost, outer cell membranes have also been damaged, therefore waiting 4-5 days before grazing is sufficient assurance that the hydrogen cyanide gas has escaped the plant leaves.  After a frost, regrowth is toxic past the 4-5 day time frame and should certainly be tested before turning animals out to graze.

So, for testing prussic acid take leaves from 20 different plants across the field for a representative sample.  Do not cut the leaves and avoid as much damage as possible.  Immediately place all leaves in a gallon sized zip lock bag. Either ship the sample overnight, or drop the sample off at Ward Laboratories, Inc. as soon as possible.  When we receive your sample, we will refrigerate it and run it as quickly as we can as to not loose any HNC and to avoid a false low value.  Samples reported at >200 ppm as received are considered toxic and allowing animals to graze would result in a rapid death toll.

I have covered nitrate toxicity in other blogs including: Do I Need to Test for Nitrates?, 6 Cautions When Grazing Cover Crops, and 4 Considerations for Feeding Hail Damaged Forage and Crop Residues. So, for testing nitrates in sorghum and sudan grasses for grazing go into the field and cut the plant at the point where you plan to pull animals off.  Then, cut 4-6 inches above that, with this small piece use plant shears and snip it into pieces.  Repeat this with 20 randomly located plants across the field.  Then mix all the small plant pieces together and take a representative sub-sample from that pile.  Place them in a zip lock bag and send them to Ward Laboratories, Inc. for nitrate analysis.

In summary, test the leaves for prussic acid and the stocks for nitrate.  It is always important to take a representative sample for the most accurate results and informed production decisions.

Additional Resource:

Nitrate and Prussic Acid Toxicity in Forage

Rain is a Tricky Thing

We’ve all heard the Luke Bryan song “Rain is a Good Thing”. While it may be a catchy lyric, lack of rain can cause livestock producers to suffer from drought and heat stress issues, while too much rain can leave farmers dealing with flood damage.  This year has been especially testing from those aspects.  The southwest is on fire.  Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico and areas of Texas, Kansas and Missouri are suffering from extreme drought and wildfires with surrounding areas battling through severe and moderate drought conditions.

DroughtMapJuly19
http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap.aspx

In contrast, there have been 6 major flooding events due to excessive rain which have been declared disaster states this summer.  There is no denying drought is difficult to handle, but flooding can be just as destructive with obstacles of its own.

flood timeline

To summarize the timeline above:

  • May 30 – Tropical Storm Alberto’s heavy rainfall lead to flash flooding in 10 southeastern states.
  • June 18 – Heavy rainfall in a short period of time lead to flooding mostly affecting the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and parts of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.
  • June 20 – Heavy rainfall resulted in river levels rising and floods in northwest Iowa and southeastern South Dakota.
  • June 21 – Some areas of Texas received more than 10 inches of rain in a 48-hour period resulting in flooding.
  • July 3 – Torrential rains resulted in flooding in southern Minnesota.
  • July 17- Heavy rain resulted in flash flooding in Washington D.C. and Massachusetts.

Rain resulting in flooding has several destructive effects on agriculture.  First, damage to infrastructure such as roadways and powerlines.  Dirt and gravel roads may get washed away during a flood, which will limit a livestock producer from checking and accessing animals.  In the event of an evacuation often the animals are unfortunately left to fend for themselves.  It is a challenge to put those access points back in place to get any operation up and running after the flooding.  There will likely be damage to other assets as well such as outbuildings and machinery.

Second, the flood waters may carry sand and other debris with it.  This debris will settle on top of fields and may result in a barrier to the soil, creating a challenge when trying to plant crops or maintain a pasture.  Removing the debris and sand can be financially exhaustive and labor intensive.

Third, heavy rainfall producing floods will likely erode the soil and carry away valuable top soil.  The erosion itself, will leave gaps and divots in fields making the next planting season more difficult with new obstacles in fields.  The loss of top soil means the soil in the field will have less nutrients and likely will have lost aspects related to a healthy soil including structure and beneficial microorganism populations such as mycorrhizal fungi.  It will be important for crop producers and pasture managers to consult with soil health experts such as Lance Gunderson or Emily Shafto at Ward Laboratories Inc. to replenish nutrients and rebuild soil health after a flooding event.

Fourth, if there were standing crops or forages in a field during a significant rain and flood event, those crops and forages likely are damaged.  Powerful rains and hail can physically damage plants.  Therefore, if harvesting for grain or planning to feed these crops or forages mold and mycotoxins should be tested.  Additionally, corn, sorghum, oats, and other nitrate accumulating forages should be tested for nitrates due to the additional stress from flooding.

Finally, field operations may be hindered.  Planting, and harvesting of crops may be delayed due to wet sloppy fields.  If the areas affected produce hay, harvesting, drying and baling all present unique obstacles.

In conclusion, rain is not always a good thing.  Too little leaves us with droughts and too much results in devastating floods.  Always consider the obstacles of these disastrous events and make a plan before they happen to avoid panic when natural disasters occur.

More Resources:

Flood List

Farming After Flooding 

The Impact of Extreme Weather Events on Agriculture in the United States

iGrow Flood Resources

 

A Comment on Rain Damaged Hay

The other day while it was raining cats and dogs outside, a customer asked how that rain would affect his freshly cut alfalfa hay.  Unfortunately, rain after cutting and before bailing only decreases the nutritional value of the hay. As the freshly chopped forage lays in the field getting rained on, water soluble compounds leach out of the plant.  These compounds include some nitrogen, some fat, minerals, vitamins, and water-soluble carbohydrates. The loss of the water-soluble carbohydrates results in an increase in the fibrous carbohydrates and therefore a decrease in the energy provided by the forage.  For more on that check out my previous post Carbohydrates and Forage Quality.  The loss of vitamins and minerals may also increase the importance of feeding those nutrients as supplements.

In addition to a poorer quality resulting hay, rained on alfalfa can support more mold.  If the mold count is significant, between 2-3 million spores per gram, it can be a contributing factor in respiratory and reproductive illnesses in livestock.

Furthermore, it is important to allow the rain damaged hay to dry to at least 12% moisture before baling.  If baled too wet, heat damage can occur, further reducing the quality of hay and nutrient availability of the hay for feeding.

Best of luck this harvesting season!

For more information check out this publication by the Iowa Beef Center:

Rain Damaged Hay can be Costly for Farmers

Do I Need to Test For Nitrates?

Last week I attended both the Colorado Cattlemen’s Annual Convention and the Sandhills Ranch Expo at the Ward Laboratories Inc tradeshow booths.  At both locations, producers had concerns about nitrates.  The climate and weather however were contrasting conditions.  Colorado producers wondered how drought stress might affect the nitrate levels in their forages, while Nebraska and South Dakota producers were concerned if too much precipitation might have affect nitrate levels in forages.  Here are 5 factors that affect how nitrates accumulate in forages.

  1. Plant Species

Some plant species accumulate nitrates more than others.  These species should be tested for nitrates regularly before feeding to animals.  These species are: sorghum (milo), sudan grass, millet, oats, johnson grass, broadleaf weeds, corn and sunflowers.  There are other species which also accumulate nitrates but not to the same extent as those listed above: wheat, rye, and triticale fall into these categories.  Finally, under extreme stress alfalfa and soybeans can accumulate nitrates, however the stress must be extensive, and this situation is very rare.

  1. Maturity of the Plant

Young plants and regrowth take up nitrogen from the soil faster than it can be converted to protein.  Older more mature plants take up nitrogen at a slower rate and have had plenty of time to convert nitrogen to protein.  Therefore, younger plants and regrowth tend to accumulate more nitrates than older mature plants.

  1. Plant Part

The lower 1/3 of the stock of the plant is where the most nitrates are stored.  Leaves and stems do not store nitrates in the plant. When grazing, leaving the last third of the stock might be a good idea to avoid any nitrate toxicity issues.

  1. Environmental Conditions

Stress due to weather or climate may increase nitrate accumulation.  During drought stress, the plant may be able to take up nitrogen but not have enough moisture to convert it to protein.  On the other hand, coming out of a drought a dramatic increase in moisture may cause the plant to take up more nitrogen than it can convert to protein in a timely fashion.  Frost and freezing temperatures also cause stress to the plant and nitrate accumulation.

  1. Management

Nitrogen fertilization is a common cause of nitrate accumulation in forages.  Nitrogen fertilization may increase yield, but it also increases risk of nitrate toxicities.

Nitrates are tricky.  I often run into producers who want to tell me their situation and management practices and ask if they need to test.  The truth is no one can determine the nitrate levels based on an antidote.  Testing is the only way to have full confidence.  If there are concerns, send forage samples to Ward Laboratories, Inc for a nitrates test and use the table below as a guide to interpert your report.

Nitrates

7 Concepts on Hay Analysis for Horses with Metabolic Conditions

Over the past year, when I receive phone calls from equine enthusiasts, they all seem to have the same question. What do I need to analyze my hay for a horse that has been diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Cushing’s Disease, Equine Diabetes or is prone to Laminitis?

While the pathology and causes of each of these disorders may be very different, they all can be managed through diet. Each of these conditions requires the horse to consume a low, simple carbohydrate diet. This means feeding no cereal grains, which are high in starches, but instead feeding a high fiber, forage based diet. I typically recommend that these clients run an NIR plus TSI plus Starch. When choosing a hay or analyzing pasture grass for suitability to feed horses with metabolic conditions, there are 7 key concepts to examine.

1. Protein

When determining a forage to feed, it is important to realize that without grain supplementation, it will be important to meet the horses protein requirements. Most horses at maintenance require 10% crude protein on a dry basis. Growing, breeding, and working or performing horses have increased protein requirements depending on their physiological state and physical activity level.

2. Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF)

The ADF is an indicator of the digestible energy available in a feed. Most horses at maintenance require between 37-40% ADF on a dry basis. Higher fiber percentages in a forage indicates that there is more structural carbohydrates in the feed and therefore less water soluble carbohydrates such as sugars and starches, which should be avoided when managing a metabolic condition.

3. Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF)

Similar to ADF, increased NDF also indicates that more carbohydrates have been converted from water soluble carbohydrates to structural carbohydrates, therefore forages with higher NDF tend to be better for managing a horse with a metabolic syndrome. Most horses at maintenance require between 50-65% NDF on a dry basis. The NDF is an indicator of dry matter intake and palatability, as NDF increases the horse will consume less of that feed, so avoid a hay with an NDF much higher than 65%.

4. Relative Feed Value (RFV)

The RFV is a calculated index based on the ADF and NDF. A good hay to maintain a horses condition would have a RFV between 83-112. Typically, grass hays and grass forages are going to meet the RFV recommendations for horses with metabolic conditions as opposed to commonly fed legumes such as alfalfa hay.

5. Non- Structural Carbohydrates (NSC)

The NSC are carbohydrates that do not make up the structural, fibrous portions of the plant. They are measured and include water soluble carbohydrates (glucose, fructose, and other sugars) and starches. It is recommended that the NSC be below 10% in horses with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, or Cushing’s Disease. Throughout the daylight hours, plants accumulate NSC and at night, those accumulated NSC are converted to cellulose and other fibers, making the NSC content of pasture grass cyclic. Therefore, when allowing horses with a metabolic condition to graze pasture, it is best to turn them out on to pasture in the early morning when sugars are low in the pasture grass and never allow grazing in the evening when sugars are high in the grass. If you are producing hay to be consumed by horses with the aforementioned conditions, hay should be cut in the early morning hours to obtain the least amount of NSC possible. Furthermore, if your cut hay were to get rained on, the sugars or water soluble carbohydrates would be removed from the hay, resulting in lower NSC content and increased fiber percentage, making that hay ideal for horses with metabolic syndromes. Be sure to bale hay that has been rained on after the hay has had a chance to dry to avoid any potential mold or heat damage issues.

6. Total Sugars Invert (TSI)

At Ward Laboratories, Inc. we do not measure water soluble carbohydrates, however we can measure the amount of glucose and fructose in a feed as TSI.

7. Starch

Starch is an indicator of feed energy. Unfortunately, when consumed, feed is broken down into glucose units which contribute to metabolic related issues. Starch, in addition to water soluble carbohydrates or in our lab TSI, is the measurement of NSC. To reiterate the very important recommendation from above; TSI + Starch should be less than 10% in a forage or hay to be used to manage a horse’s metabolic condition through the diet.

In conclusion, when feeding a horse with a metabolic condition, avoid grain as it is high in starch and choose a low quality grass hay that is at or above 10% crude protein on a dry basis. Keep the non-structural carbohydrates to less than 10% of the hay or forage you are feeding. Following these guidelines should prevent bouts of laminitis and keep the metabolic condition in check.