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Using Alternative Feeds to Cope with Drought

July 3, 2012

Fast Facts

  • Cattle producers may consider alternative feeds as drought takes pastures
  • Crop residues, poultry bedding, rice bran viable options
  • Some supplementation required to meet nutrient need of cattle

LITTLE ROCK – As drought consumes pastures and hay barns are emptied, cattle producers need to consider other options to feed their livestock if summer grass does not make a comeback, said Shane Gadberry, associate professor-ruminant nutrition for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“Replacing forage with alternative roughage sources, grains, and by-product feedstuffs are an option, but utilizing these alternatives must be done with careful planning,” he said.

Among the options:
Poultry bedding.  “The unique function of the rumen enables cattle to utilize this for feed and compared to other sources of energy, this is by far the cheapest per ton and nutrients are re-cycled to pastures which will be used by grasses as moisture conditions improve,” Gadberry said.

He said that when feeding litter, it’s important to choose the right feed to add to litter, to help meet cow energy needs.  Little contains 50 percent total digestible nutrients or energy when most cows need 52-58 percent total digestible nutrients in their daily diet.  To correct the imbalance, adding feeds that are highly digestible such as corn, soybean hulls, hominy, or corn gluten feed would be more appropriate than feeds that are low in digestibility such as cotton gin waste, cottonseed hulls, peanut hulls or sugarcane bagasse – the fibrous remains after the cane is crushed for juice.

Rice mill feed.  Rice mill feed is lower in protein than litter, requires correcting its low calcium content, and has a very small particle size. Gadberry said it may require blending with a feedstuff to improve the protein as well as the energy. This could include distillers dried grains and  calcium supplement.  Due to the small particle size of rice mill feed, producers should also consider adding a small amount of roughage to the daily diet as hay or cottonseed hulls.

Rice bran. Rice bran differs in nutrient composition compared to rice mill feed, and has been fed as a partial forage substitute. Rice bran’s protein and energy content is closer to beef cow requirements than rice mill feed.  However, in recent years, rice bran availability has been less consistent than other alternatives.

Crop residue. “Harvested crop residues and cotton gin waste was used as roughage sources in drought-stricken areas last year,” Gadberry said. “Samples of harvested rice, soybean, corn, sorghum, and peanut residues were sent in by producers last year for nutrient analysis. Several corn samples tested dangerously high for nitrates and for all residues, quality could generally be described as moderately low-protein and low energy.

“With any crop residue or gin waste, producers need to make sure that no chemicals were applied to the crop that restricts the crops use as a livestock feed,” he said.

Gadberry said cattle producers must realize that 1-2 pounds of supplement usually isn’t enough for crop residues, cottonseed hulls, and very mature hay crops – especially for lactating cows.

“To determine how much feed is required, cattle should be fed in groups with similar nutrient requirements and alternative feeds and hays tested for nutrient composition,” he said. “Feedstuff testing is very important for determining if, what, and how much complementary feeds are needed to keep the herd in acceptable body condition and productive.”

A wealth of information on feeding poultry litter, alternative feeds for beef cattle, grouping cows for feeding, and substituting grains for forage in a beef cow’s diet is available through county Extension offices and Extension publication websites, such as

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

June 25, 2012

By Mary Hightower
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

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