On July 17, 2009, a hailstorm tore through Clifford Cyre’s promising canola crop and stripped off all the blossoms, causing 100 per cent damage. A few weeks later, the crop was heavily blooming again on his Westlock, Alta., farm. That’s when Loren Koch asked Cyre if he could silage the crop for cattle feed.
It turned out to be a good deal for both.
Cyre always buys hail insurance, so his costs were covered, and he received fair value for the silage. He was also glad to have the crop taken off. “Otherwise we’d have had all that material to work under,” says Cyre.
Koch was happy with the volume. The canola swath was heavy, with an amazing amount of pods, and the custom silage outfit he employed was kept busy. The silage chopper kept six truckers driving all out the 10 miles to the farm, with the yield turned out to be eight tonnes per acre. The big question mark for Koch was the feed value.
LOW COST, HIGH VALUE
Koch says that in a year when feed was in short supply, the cheap canola silage seemed a mighty good deal, as Koch had 150 cow-calf pairs of his own and 450 to 500 calves for backgrounding for a local feedlot. Cheap feed, however, can sometimes end up as a bad deal if significant supplementation has to happen. That wasn’t the case with the canola silage.
In this case, cheap feed didn’t necessarily mean poor feed, as Koch discovered after the silage was analyzed by a nutritionist. “The canola silage worked quite well, despite being a little lower in protein than expected,” he says.
The protein content was 9.9 per cent on a dry matter basis (they expected as much as 13) and had a relative feed value of 104 (100 being good). In comparison, his barley silage had protein of 9.2 per cent (a little low as well), with a relative feed value of 135 (very good). The price was also right, comparing favourably with Koch’s own barley, which costs him $30/ tonne by the time it’s in the pit.
His cattle were happy too. Koch had good gains in his calf weights.
“Death (and) sickness loss was much better this year than any of the last four,” he says. He believes the canola silage was a factor.
CANOLA STAGING FOR SILAGE
At the time of silaging, the canola crop was at the early pod stage.
“Staging is critical for canola — for either green feed, silage or bale silage,” says Barry Yaremcio, Alberta Agriculture cattle specialist. “Anywhere from mid-flower to early pod is probably the best stage. You want to save as many leaves as you possibly can, because that’s where the protein and the energy is, in the plant.
“Canola in full flower can be as high as 18 to 20 per cent protein, and 63 to 65 per cent TDN (total digestible nutrients) — equivalent to a high-quality alfalfa grass hay.”
Koch said the early pod stage was ideal for him, as it provided good feed value and more mass than it would have had at flowering.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
There are some things to watch out for as the canola matures.
“Sulphur goes up when the seeds in the pods are developing,” says Yaremcio. “If cows get a ration with more than 0.4 per cent total sulphur, including what they get out of the water, there could be a situation where they (become ill due to an induced vitamin B deficiency).”
Koch avoided that problem by formulating a ration that was one-third canola silage and two-thirds barley silage. Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Agriculture recommends that canola not exceed 50 per cent of a ration. (For more information on this problem, go to www.agriculture. gov.sk.ca/Livestock-Feeds- Nutrition and scroll down to the article “Brassica Crops for Hay and Silage (Canola and Mustard)”)
You also need to keep an eye on oil content, which starts to build up three weeks after podding. Traditional crops, such as alfalfa or barley, have three per cent oil and Yaremcio says total oil in the ration with canola should not exceed seven per cent.
“Once the exact content goes over seven per cent, the rumen turns, but the rumen contents don’t and you can get bloat occurring.”
“(For these reasons) I think it’s important to work with a nutritionist,” says Koch.
Besides sulphur and oil content, another problem can be nitrate. Canola can also contain high levels of nitrogen, another reason why Koch recommends working with a nutritionist to balance the rations.
GOOD GAINS ON SILAGE
Koch’s calves and cows did very well beginning on a ration of 50/50 canola/barley silage (tapering down to one-third/two-thirds) in addition to rolled barley, with salt and minerals formulated to balance the ration. No extra protein was required.
Moisture at the time of silaging was perfect, around 60 per cent. Canola is high in moisture (75 to 80 per cent) and can take more time to dry down, although crimping will speed up the drying process. The preferred moisture range is from 60 to 65 per cent. Koch had some dry stems from the hail damage, which may have reduced the moisture level but also the protein content.
Yaremcio offered a word of caution if making bale silage, which should be in the 50 to 55 per cent moisture range.
“Timing is critical,” he says. “From the time the bale is made, to the time it’s wrapped should be no more than 12 hours, otherwise you get unwanted fermentation started.”
Canola silage should be introduced in three or four stages, he says.
“Cows do like the taste of canola, there’s no problem going on it,” he said.
The quality of the canola silage was excellent. “It’s impressive how good that stuff smelled,” says Koch.
MarianneStammisafreelancefarmwriter fromJarvie,Alta.Contactherbyemailat [email protected]