Originally published in the September 23 edition of AgriNews
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) forage, livestock and beef specialists offer suggestions for producers who are buying feed this year.
“The quality and quantity of forage in the province – really Western Canada and below the 49th parallel – is extremely varied,” says Andrea Hanson, livestock extension specialist with AF. “Some producers have all they need. Some are looking to buy, and others have feed to sell.”
“Those producers looking to buy forage feed need to be aware of the unwanted or unexpected plants they may be introducing to their farm or ranch through their purchases. It is very important to know what you’re buying.”
She adds that not all plants are alike, as some are beneficial to the farm while others could cause big headaches.
“A producer may be willing to accept some plants while others are ones that are simply not acceptable. Weeds fall into three categories – common, noxious and prohibited noxious. The latter two categories could create long-term problems for control.”
“The producer growing the forage needs to know what is growing in the field when the forage is cut and baled,” she says. “It is also important for the buyer to ask what possible weeds could be in the forage before buying it and introducing it to their land.”
She says that if a producer is buying forage from the neighbour across the fence, chances are that the weed species are close to the same. Wildlife are also a very effective way of spreading seeds throughout the countryside.
“If the feed is coming from a significant distance, the weed issues from that area could be very different than the weeds in another. By moving the forage, weed problems are introduced,” Hanson adds.
The weed issue is even more important when taking into account where the livestock will eat that feed.
“Will they be fed on perennial or native grasslands? The cost of introducing a problem weed to that area could mean the elimination of beneficial plants such as alfalfa, clovers or vetches. Those beneficial plants could be killed or injured if a broadleaf herbicide is required for weed control.”
“However, utilizing the feed on land that will be tilled in the spring may reduce the weed concern. How that field is managed later will be very important.”
She notes that a feed analysis does not identify any of the plant species in the feed.
“There have been many articles about feed testing, yet this is a situation where a feed analysis would not tell the whole story. The only way to know what might be in the forage feed is to do a visual appraisal and physically look for weeds or to develop a rapport with the seller and feel comfortable enough to take their word.”
Rumen digestion, ensiling or composting will not to eliminate the weed issues. While these processes may reduce the number of viable seeds, they do not guarantee the elimination of seeds that will germinate and create future problems.
“As a final note,” she adds, “be sure to get an accurate weight on the bales, especially if they are being priced by the bale and not weighed and sold by the tonne.”