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Ask questions with alternative feed
Alicia Boor
Alicia Boor

The term “alternative feedstuff” conjures images of a variety of post-production food products (i.e. bakery waste, potato products, candy remnants, brewery waste etc.) that can be fed to livestock. However, I would contend the term would also apply to a variety of specialty or vegetable crop residues (dry beans, chili peppers etc.). Alternative feedstuffs can provide economical sources of nutrients in cattle rations.

Many alternative feeds are postproduction waste products, so it is essential to understand a variety of factors.

• What exactly is in the product?

• How is it produced?

• Are there any artifacts of the production or cleaning process that would impact livestock or cattle?

It is also important to understand how the product is handled, stored and how it will be delivered to the end-user. Many low or no cost alternative feedstuffs can be difficult to handle and store which may limit the potential use of a product as a feed commodity. Another consideration is the expected shelf-life of the product and the typical volume of the product received. In some situations, the products are close to or past their “best by” date for human consumption and may need to be fed quickly.

Many waste product streams (cull vegetable produce waste, candy) also include product packaging material which may need to be removed prior to feeding. In some cases, packaging material may be fed but not fully digested and thus is present in manure, which can become unsightly in the facility or in crop fields.

If a specialty crop or vegetable residue is being evaluated, the type and application timing of any herbicides or any chemicals should also be considered. Many herbicides for specialty/vegetable crops do not consider grazing, haying or any livestock use on their labels. Evaluating the safety or potential risk associated with a specific chemical/herbicide can become challenging and thus seeking the advice of professionals with technical expertise in chemicals is advised.

Producers should request a chemical analysis of the feedstuff. The analysis should include the amount of moisture in the product (dry matter), crude protein, fiber (crude fiber, ADF: acid detergent fiber, NDF: neutral detergent fiber), starch, fat content and a mineral profile that includes both macro and microminerals preferably. Given that many of these products are by-products of a production process and not naturally-occurring they may contain disproportionate concentrations of nutrients or minerals that may potentially limit inclusion in rations. Obtaining a nutrient analysis, also facilitates the calculation of nutrient (crude protein, energy) cost per unit calculations (lb or ton, dry basis) and allows producers to accurately compare alternative feedstuffs with traditional protein or energy commodities.

Alicia Boor is the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent with K-State Research and Extension – Cottonwood District. Contact her by email at or call 620-793-1910.