Drought conditions in Georgia this year have claimed a portion of the state's valuable peanut and cotton crops. But those crops that are abandoned might still be of some use for cattle producers.
By utilizing these abandoned crops, cattlemen can reduce feeding costs and/or extend the grazing period and perhaps even allow pastures to regenerate if there's adequate rainfall, say Curt Lacy, University of Georgia Extension economist — livestock, and Johnny Rossi, Extension beef specialist.
The key to effectively utilizing these crops, say the Extension specialists, is to match animal nutritional needs to feed quality.
Lacy and Rossi offer guidelines for utilizing abandoned peanut and cotton crops in a recent University of Georgia publication.
Standing cotton, they say, will be less nutritious than un-harvested peanuts. So, dry beef cows can utilize standing cotton, lactating beef cows can make use of baled peanut vines, and stockers should be grazed or pre-conditioned on un-harvested peanut vines.
Research conducted at the Southwest Georgia Experiment Station at Plains indicates that one acre of standing cotton can provide about 35 to 45 days of grazing for one mature dry cow. If a producer has a 40-acre field of cotton to abandon, this could provide about one to one and a half months of grazing for 40 dry beef cows.
Un-harvested peanuts can be very similar to alfalfa hay in terms of nutrition. As a result, it can be grazed or baled.
Cattlemen who are weaning calves may consider grazing them on un-harvested peanut vines. As a general rule, peanut vine yields are approximately one and a half times the actual peanut yield (1.2 for Georgia Green and 1.7 for Georgia-02C or C- 99R).
When grazing peanut vines, producers will want to supplement with about 1 percent of body weight of soy hulls per day.
Cattlemen should not stock more than 500 pounds of calves per acre. At a stocking rate of one 500 pound steer to the acre receiving 1-percent body weight of soy hulls per day, cattlemen can expect gains of 2.5 pounds per day for about 30 days (about 75 pounds per calf).
Peanut vines also can be harvested for hay and then fed to lactating cows or growing animals. Since the vines should be very similar to alfalfa hay, the value of the hay should be about $150 per ton.
Peanut vines for hay should be cut with a mower-conditioner. At $3 per gallon for diesel, cash costs to mow-condition and bale will be around $34 per acre. Using the earlier vine estimate of 750 pounds of vine per acre, this amounts to $90 per ton cost to put up hay. However, with a value of $150 per ton, this is still an economical decision. Even so, cattlemen should closely consider the economics of this decision and compare the economics of adding weight and value to calves by grazing versus $34 per acre for hay cost plus transportation from the field and storage.
In some instances, the peanuts may be dug, and the peanuts and vines then can be baled together.
Peanuts are very high in energy due to the high fat content (48 percent) and also are high in protein (28 percent). If the peanuts would yield 500 pounds per acre, then the resulting peanut plus vine hay would be approximately 15 to 18 percent protein and 62 to 67 percent TDN. This hay could be used for either dry or lactating cows.
Dry cows would need no additional protein or energy supplement. Lactating cows need approximately 60 percent TDN and 11.5 percent protein. Feed intake per day should be approximately 2 percent of body weight for a dry cow and 2.5 percent of body weight for a lactating cow.
The hay should supply enough protein, but additional energy may be required, especially if the hay has significant leaf shattering during baling or is rained on prior to baling. The only way to know if cows will need additional energy is to have the hay analyzed for nutrient content.
You are advised to contact your local Extension agent for help in getting the hay analyzed for nutrient content.
In addition to feed, cattle also need water. This is perhaps the most overlooked nutrient by many cattle producers, according to Lacy and Rossi. Growing animals require 1 to .5 gallons of water per day per hundredweight, dry cows require 1 gallon per day per hundredweight, and lactating cows require 1.8 gallons per day per hundredweight.