Forage and hay production this year has been challenging, and livestock producers in much of the Northern Great Plains and the western half of North America are looking for alternative forage resources and feeding strategies.

Zach Carlson, extension beef specialist at North Dakota State University, is looking at options for producers who might have canola that isn’t up to par, that can be used elsewhere. Carlson joins Kara Oosterhuis in this Canola School episode to talk about using canola as a feed source for cattle.

Plant maturity drives forage quality, but as canola is in the brassica family, the optimum time for quality would be comparative to alfalfa โ€” in full bloom to early pod stages, says Carlson.

“At that point, you could see an energy value, or TDN, of between 55 and 60 per cent in that forage, as well as protein somewhere in that 15 per cent true protein range,” adds Carlson.

An important consideration for using canola as forage is the drying process, says Carlson โ€” putting it up under the 20 per cent moisture mark, to prevent molding or spontaneous combustion. (Story continues below video)

Carlson warns that canola can lead to bloat, and to be cautious about introducing it into rations gradually, and limit to only about 50 per cent. “In addition to that, sulphur levels can run a little bit higher in canola, so you want to be aware, and have your water tested and what your sulphate levels in your waters,” he adds.

Another consideration, particularly for this year, is that drought-stressed, stunted canola is probably going to bring higher nitrate values into a ration, so Carlson says to get it tested at a lab before using.

“It’s always good, to know what you have,” says Carlson, explaining that variation within a field or across fields is likely, and submitting a sample to test for protein and nutrient content means you know what you’re dealing with.

Finally, Carlson says that turning canola into silage or haylage, requires the moisture content be at 60 to 65 per cent moisture, which in many parts, the crop may be past that. Looking into the future, he says that if a drought occurs again, knowing the moisture content for canola helps reduce seepage and acid build-up.

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