Stretching Feed Supplies

MU Beef Nutritionist Justin Sexten helps producers extend forage supplies through the winter

MU Beef Nutritionist Justin Sexten explains the process of adding nitrogen fertilizer to hay forage supplies to improve nutrition and digestibility.

For the second year in a row, Missouri farmers endured a significant drought, stressing crops, impacting yields and limiting forage supplies for livestock producers.

Justin Sexten, beef nutritionist in CAFNR’s Division of Animal Sciences, partnered with the Missouri Corn Merchandizing Council, the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and Mississippi Lime to demonstrate how  to improve digestibility of corn stover and lower-quality CRP hay by 15 percent while doubling the feeds’ protein content. He traveled across the state meeting with producers and discussing the techniques for improving and extending forage supplies.

Sexten adds calcium hydroxide to corn stover in a small batch to demonstrate the process.

“Three of the five years I’ve been here I’ve done drought programming starting in June,” Sexten told a group of producers at the Forage Systems Research Center Field Day in September.  “Odds are good that forage supply could be short.”

Incorporating a specific treatment process called ammoniation, Sexten demonstrated how producers can treat corn stover at a cost of approximately $25 per ton of forage. The added nutritional value makes it an economical choice in a season filled with climatic and economic challenges. The process is commonly used during times of drought to add value to low quality forages because it adds nitrogen, which the bugs who live in cattle’s rumens need to digest poor quality forages.

Sexten also demonstrated treatment of processed corn stover with calcium hydroxide. Similar to ammoniation, forage digestibility is improved with this process, but the nitrogen content remains unchanged. The process is relatively unknown and has generated lots of questions, but considering production trends, it could become more common.

“At some point we’ll raise 300 bushel corn, and when we raise 300 bushel corn those of you with corn on corn will have a problem because you’ll have a tremendous amount of residue in the field, which is why the industry is looking for ways we can take corn stover and convert it into a useable product,” Sexten said to a group of producers.

Sexten discusses the merits of hay feeder styles at Forage Systems Research Center’s Field Day. He has research trials this winter to evaluate which feeder best conserves hay.

Sexten is working through the logistics of treating stover with calcium hydroxide with demonstrations at MU’s Beef Research and Teaching Farm. There he’s experimenting with different storage lengths, evaluating how they affect the integrity of the feed and considering the process costs. He’ll have results from the experiment next spring.

Sexten plans to host quarterly events at the MU Beef Research and Teaching Farm in Columbia so he can take producers through each step of a project through the course of a year.

He also has collaborators on his personal farm, where he raises cattle as part of a custom heifer development program. His three daughters, ages 9, 8 and 4, help with the day-to-day care of their animals. “It’s something I do to help my kids stay engaged, connect them to where their food comes from and keeps me aware of the challenges producers encounter as well,” Sexten said.  “Philosophically, I think you should be responsible for another life as a kid at some point, whether it’s feeding your calf or feeding your dog.  They’re responsible for chores every day and helping with infrastructure maintenance. Cattle are my job and my hobby,” Sexten added.