Depending on what part of the state you’re raising livestock, sourcing winter fields is becoming a big issue for North Dakotan producers, according to Karl Hoppe, North Dakota State University Extension livestock systems specialist at Carrington Research Extension Center.
“A year ago we had drought in the western part of the state, and this past year we had drought in the north-central, central, and northeastern regions of the state,” said Hoppe. “With that, we have short feed supplies. We didn’t have hay production to the amount we expected to have, so consequently people are scrambling for other places to get feed.”
With the drought conditions, other feed sources are short as well. For example, Hoppe notes people who put up corn silage didn’t have as much feed because it didn’t yields as was expected. As a whole, the amount of feed available is a challenge to livestock producers in the state.
Like all droughts, they’re localized, so when producers have to haul feed in from other areas it comes at a cost, both in terms of transportation, as well as actual feed costs, and people know there is a demand for the product, which means it’s priced higher.
“The good news is that in the eastern part of the state there are a lot of co-products that are produced – wheat midds, distiller’s grains, beet pulp and corn gluten,” said Hoppe. “There’s a lot of processing in the eastern part of the state, so using those kinds of co-products as an offset for the hay that wasn’t produced is an option.”
Hoppe says distiller’s grains may be the best option to pursue for producers looking for winter feeds, mostly due to the product’s high protein and energy.
“Like everything, as demand picks up, availability is less,” he said. “But we produce a lot of (distiller’s grains). We have huge plants in Hankinson, Casselton, Spiritwood, Underwood and Richardton. From the mere size of the plants, we have products in the state, but a lot of it is being shipped out because we produce a lot of distiller’s grains in the state.”
Another issue facing producers in search of winter feeds is the presence of ergot in some of the wheat in the central region of the state this year. Ergot consumption is a major health hazard to both animals and humans as it reduces blood flow to the extremities, says Hoppe. That means it can also reduce blood flow to the uterus and lead to abortions.
“It doesn’t take very much – just a few kernels,” he said. “If the levels are high enough it can cause cows to abort, tail fluffing, ear trimming or it can even cause hooves to fall off – which can often be confused for frostbite in the herd. You need blood flow to keep your feet warm.”
Ergot has been around for a lot of years. In fact, Hoppe noted that incrimination during the Salem Witch Trials was connected to ergot poisoning.
“They had ergot problems,” he said. “The rich people milled out the outside and ate the refined wheat, while the poor people at the whole wheat, and the whole wheat had some ergot in it. It’s pretty potent stuff.”
For producers looking at possibly sourcing winter feeds this year, Hoppe suggests planning ahead.
“We don’t know how winter is going to be,” he said. “Some long-term forecasts say we may be in store for a mild winter, but it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen for sure.”
He also notes straw, or corn/soybean big round bales can be utilized as feed when mixed with other supplementation.
“A high-quality feed like distiller’s grains with bedding and a supplement can work with cows,” Hoppe concluded.