Grazing rice as a small grain

on .

Will it work? I'm trying to find out

I have been known to do egregious things. One I did recently was to mention Sericea lespedeza and not follow with how much Remedy to use to kill it. So let me clarify. Good Sericea lespedeza is dead Sericea Lespedeza.
Now that I have offended nearly everyone, except perhaps the Missouri highway department that introduced Sericea, I am pursuing another agronomic adventure.

I am trying to find information on grazing rice as a late-summer annual pasture. I was speaking with a Missouri cattle raiser who is looking at using rice as a pasture crop, seeding it down like any other small grain crop and grazing it as we would rye or wheat. The interest in rice is acute in that it has a growth habit that covers a part of the year when we tend to be forage short-the mid- to late-summer time of year.

When I look through the literature, I find data on feeding rice straw. Usually the reports are from Asia, and draft animals are fed the rice straw (people eat the grain). To the American ruminant nutritionist, this can be an emotional hurdle. I overcame it some years ago in Central America. I was looking at some skinny lop-eared milk cows. The farm manager solicited my opinion. I was the wise guy from the States. Trying to make a point, I said, "Hey! Do you know what corn is?"

The farm manager said, "Of course, we eat corn, all the tortillas on this morning's table were from slaked corn, and your point is?"

So, I said, "I, uh... I guess we won't be feeding corn to the cows; they get the stalks, cobs and husks, right?"
Rice straw is tough stuff, notorious for silica, it dulls knives about like chopping sand. It has fiber levels as high as cottonseed hulls.

Years ago I scrounged around looking for rice forage, because some high end Waggie recip cows were supposed to be fed rice straw and barley. I wanted to feed the cows Iowa brand corn silage, but the honorable Japanese owners wanted to feed the cattle rice forage, and since the honorable Japanese were paying the bills, we went to Arkansas for rice forage.

This was a tremendous experience. Most of the rice straw was plowed under, and the rest, which was baled, was most frequently used for erosion control. We did find some unheaded material that was baled, and it did not feed too bad-much better than straw would have.

For rice straw, figure these averages: about 60 to 65 percent neutral detergent fiber (of which 30 percent is digestible); 40 to 45 percent acid detergent fiber and 5 percent crude protein-roughly similar to corn stalks, although corn stover NDF will tend to be of higher digestibility than 30 percent. Given that whole-plant corn silage can have substantially more energy and protein than the subsequent corn stover, I would expect that younger rice plants have substantially higher nutrient content than rice straw. A research team from Korea, lead by Ki et al, in the April 2009 issue of Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences, reported that whole-plant rice silage could be used to replace corn silage in milking cow diets without reducing milk production. Ishida and the Korean Rural Development Administration have also done work on using whole-plant rice silage for dairy feed. I would suspect if a forage can be used as dairy feed, it would certainly be a beef feed alternative.
I would expect that higher protein content would tend to improve digestibility, as would lower silica contents. UC Davis did work across a wide variety of rice cultivars and the California work did not show a correlation between silica concentration and digestibility. This is encouraging in that the silica might not be directly reducing the digestibility.

When I went and asked colleagues about grazing rice, the most common response was, "I have no idea." Other common responses told me that rice is a grain crop-and one of the most costly crops to establish. It is too costly for cow feed with the exception of the by-products: bran, mill feed and hulls.

Agronomists I talked to were particularly concerned with the amount of silica. Rice may have a silica requirement, but cows do not. A clever emeritus professor said that it should work, but doubted the likelihood of getting funding for such a project.

So, at this juncture, I am soliciting the experience or advice of anyone who has tried grazing ruminants on rice as we would graze other small grains such as wheat, rye, barley, oats or triticale.
I'd be grateful for any insight or suggestions. Write to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

Modernizing feed mills

Written by stevefairchild on .

robot stacker

Feed and Grain, a business-to-business magazine that covers the feed market has a nice feature on the updates and upgrades MFA has installed in the Mexico, Mo. feed mill. The story explains how a new bagging system and robot bag stacker has increased throughput for the facility and helped to reduce working injury.

MFA’s new bagging system delivered on the promise of a 33% reduction in the overall plant labor/labor efficiency gains; the 50% reduction in overall shrink, the loss related to packaging; and a 20% increased throughput rate.

“Technology enhances your competitiveness. As other costs tend to go up, you need to find ways to minimize expenses where you can and improve efficiencies,” says Alan Wessler, vice president of MFA’s feed division.


Read the whole thing here.

Herdsman is on the way

Written by stevefairchild on .

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at a new offering that's on the way at your local MFA location. A couple times per year, MFA retail managers bring agricultrual vendors into a trade-show setting. Managers from across MFA's territory gather to work with the vendors to attain volume pricing and other forms of buyer savings. Those products then work through the cooperative to your farm. herdsman booth

At the August Buyers' Market, the Herdsman brand made its debut to MFA. Herdsman is a joint venture among several cooperatives who pool their buying power to get high-quality farm supply products at a reasonable price. Herdsman fencing products are first to hit the MFA system.

The Herdsman brand was conceived by farm product buyers at Tennessee Farmers. Participating cooperatives include: Tennessee Farmers, Alabama Farmers, MFA Incorporated, Heritage Trading and Intermountain Farmers Association. As buyers from these cooperatives negotiate deals with manufacturers, more Herdsman products will be available.

Time to test your hay

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

[Photo:Krystle Fleming via CC/Flicker]

In any number of producer meeting that I have been to, I have held up a feed sample and a $20 bill. I tell the audience what the feed sample is and the expected range of TDN. Then I tell them that the first correct guess gets the $20.  Everyone only gets one guess though—otherwise someone would guess 0-100 and claim the bill, similar to buying out a lottery. 

I have never had anyone win the $20.


A better deal would be to say that a player pays a dollar for a guess. I’d potentially make more money. The point of the exercise is that if we do not test our feeds and forages, we are, in effect, guessing at the nutrient concentration.

We would be happy to guess for the $20 when guessing doesn’t have a cost. But not knowing the feed value of hays, grains or silage has a huge cost—we will either over feed or under feed the animals.


What could be better than free hay? That might sound like a rhetorical question, such as, "What could be better than watching  a monster truck jumping a row of motorcycles?" Well, it would be cooler to see it done whilst the motorcycles were ablaze, or if the driver was blindfolded.


No such drama in the barn lot, but not dropping animal performance would be better than free hay.  Consider the data of Kawas et al out of WI. They compared different hays as to the amount of the hay a milk cow ate and her milk production.

While the milk-cow comparison might not be aples to apples with your beef herd, the results show that cows—and your feed costs—respond to hay qaulity.

The Wisconsin study  fed cows from high to low levels of concentrate and from high to low hay quality.  Using dairy quality hay, (RFV >150) at $120/ton gives better income over feed cost than does using free ($0.00/ton) beef cow quality hay (RFV <100).  Using the production data of Kawas, given typical feed situations, low quality hay can’t be cheap enough to feed; it can't be so cheap as to not be worth evaluating. Knowing the hay quality allows for appropriate usage and supplementation.


I've pasted the contrasts using the numbers from the University of WI.  The entire abstract is found in the papers presented at the 1983 American Dairy Sci Association meeting.

It’s Vitamin E for essential

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

In bovine health, much like our own, we defend against free radicals with antioxidants

All animals require antioxidants. The effectiveness of alpha tocopherol “vitamin E” as an antioxidant is associated with the prevention of cell degradation (technically: lipid peroxidation) in animals.

However, a few researchers have interpreted the low peroxide level of tissue lipids in animals receiving supplemental E as due to the inhibition of absorption of oxidized fatty acids from the intestinal tract.

Suffice it to say that vitamin E is the principle membrane-associated antioxidant molecule in mammals. It plays a major role in preventing oxidative damage to cell membrane lipids by scavenging free radicals.

I could stack up some more 50-cent words to explain the various chemical properties of vitamin E, and that might intrigue biochemists, but let’s just say that the many flavors of vitamin E are sort of like socks: even if they are miss matched, they still fit and work as socks.

Absorption and transport

Vitamin E is hydrophobic and is absorbed similarly to other dietary fats-lipids. If you need to feed high levels of vitamin E, you want to ensure adequate fat in the diet—otherwise vitamin E absorption is reduced.

After solubilization by bile acids, vitamin E is absorbed in the small intestine. It moves into the blood stream from there.

Once in circulation, much of the vitamin E is taken up by the liver and repacked into very low density lipoproteins, then pushed into blood to circulate through the animal’s vascular system. Ultimately, vitamin E is transported in blood bound to a variety of lipoproteins, from which it is taken up by tissues throughout the body. Vitamin E is stored within energy-storing fat.

Physiologic effects

The claim to fame of vitamin E is as an antioxidant. In other words, it is a scavenger of free radicals. Free radicals are generated by numerous processes within cells and have the ability to damage cell membranes, proteins and nucleic acids.

Vitamin E is at the forefront of the body’s homeland security defense forces to prevent oxidative damage by free radical terrorists. Due to its fat solubility, vitamin E is particularly important in protecting cell membranes.

Vitamin E levels in manufactured feeds

An ongoing discussion is how much vitamin E should be fed. There is a difference between nutrient requirements and nutrient recommendations. The requirement is the quantity the animal needs to prevent nutritional disease; the recommendation is the amount that we target to feed based on the current objectives. Because some things seem to work better, say feeding 1,000 units of E to dry cows, we often recommend the practice.

For dry cows on vegetative grass pastures, diet vitamin E content will be very high, well exceeding animal requirements. So you might wonder why I’d recommend additional vitamin E in the diet. I’d make the recommendation because things go better when we feed 1,000 units of E to dry cows compared to feeding 0 units. It’s an ounce of prevention and pound of harm scenario.

In the 1980s, it was fairly common to daily feed about 300 units of vitamin E to milk cows, and 10 to 50 units to beef cows.

Now days we often see milk cows and finishing cattle take 1,000 units of E per day, while beef cows and growing cattle get about 50 to 100 units.

The vitamin E load on dry milk cows will vary from none to 8,000 units a day, with the expected level closer to a tick over 1,000.

To demonstrate this effect, consider the trial done by Dr. Weiss and colleagues at Ohio. They held selenium constant at 0.1 ppm, then fed dry dairy cows different levels of vitamin E, measuring incidence of mastitis.

Deficiency and toxicity

Vitamin E deficiency has been associated with a number of problems:

• Impaired fertility
• Muscle disease, nutritional myopathy (white muscle disease)
• Degeneration of central nervous system and peripheral nerves
• Accelerated destruction of blood cells

There are any number of reports that have fed cows thousands of units of vitamin E a day for months at a time. The current calculations are that chronic vitamin E toxicity in dairy cows would to be at least 80,000 units a day for weeks on end. That corresponds to 4 pounds per day of vitamin E 20,000. To kill a cow with vitamin E, the way to whack her with the smallest requisite amount of vitamin E, would likely be to drop a pallet of vitamin E on her head.

All MFA manufactured feeds, other than commodity blends #44131 or #44161 are fortified with vitamin E.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

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