As drought continues to wreak havoc on forage and crops throughout the region, the price of feeding livestock keeps increasing.
Those in the animal agriculture industry are looking for feed alternatives and ways to lower their input costs. Recently, some producers have been asking about ammoniating straw in an effort to extend their forage resources, says Golden Plains Area Livestock Specialist Michael Fisher. Ammoniating straw requires that anhydrous ammonia be pumped into a sealed stack of low quality forage and allowed to bind with the forage tissue," he says. " is a process that was researched and came to be an accepted management strategy many decades ago; however, it is often only used in desperate times.
"Ammoniation requires added labor and supply inputs. It can also be hazardous to the environment, livestock, and producers if mismanaged. Additionally, as the spread between hay prices and anhydrous ammonia prices widens, the ammoniation option becomes less economically favorable."
It is important to point out that ammoniation does not improve the forage itself, but adds a non-protein nitrogen (NPN) source to the straw, he points out.
"In many cases, this should increase both the intake (17 to 18%) and digestibility (20%) of low quality forage. It is commonly accepted that the crude protein (CP) content of ammoniated forage can be 1.5 to 2 times greater than the same non-ammoniated forage, when the process is done properly.
"There is a small range of forages that are acceptable candidates for ammoniation. Usually it is the grass family (wheat, oats, etc.) that make for suitable candidates. Their tissue is easily permeated by the anhydrous ammonia and binds with the moisture within the tissue.
"Ammonia hydroxide is formed in this process and becomes the NPN source. Legumes (alfalfa, beans, etc.) should not be ammoniated. They have a more complex lignin & fibrous carbohydrate structure that interferes with the process."
The forage being ammoniated needs to have a moisture content of 15 to 20%, he advises. "Otherwise, the ammoniation process will not complete itself. Often, straws will have lower moisture levels than this. Water can be added to increase the moisture content but needs to be done according to research established guidelines. If done incorrectly, molds can form and ruin the modified feed source."
For more information about the application procedure or the mathematical equations that should be used in formulating your ammoniation plan may want to read "Ammoniation and Use of Ammoniated Low Quality Forages" (CL 382) in the Cattle Producer's Library. It can be accessed online at http://www.ansci.colostate.edu/beef/info/cattlemanslibrary/382.pdf.