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Is Canola hay safe to feed to stock?

With plenty of canola crop hay currently of the market, Central Tablelands Local Land Services has been fielding queries about whether it’s a useful feed for livestock.

Brett Littler, Senior Lands Services Officer (Livestock), says yes, canola can be fed to both sheep and cattle, but advises it is better suited to cattle because canola is a very stalky crop.

“Canola can be fed to sheep but you can expect a lot more wastage. Whether you’re feeding sheep or cattle, there are some important animal health issues that need to be considered before buying in a load of canola hay.”

“Firstly you need to ask questions about fertiliser application and nitrate levels before the hay was baled. Canola crops can accumulate dangerously high nitrate levels, particularly if nitrogen fertilizer was applied just prior to a rain event.”

Nitrates in hay don’t break down in storage, but levels can be measured through fodder testing.

Brett also recommends finding out if the crop was subject to frost damaged before being baled.

“Canola contains small seeds which provide a lot of the nutritional value in canola hay. Frost damage can reduce seed numbers, resulting in lower feed quality.”

If both nutritional quality and nitrate levels are acceptable, canola hay should be introduced slowly to stock, initially mixed in with safe feeds.

Brett warns that livestock should be gradually introduced to any new feed source, as ruminant animals need time to build a population of bacteria in the gut that can process different types of nutrient, particularly if the feed is high in nitrates.

A sudden change in diet can detrimentally alter rumen bacteria, resulting in decreased rate of digestion or clinical disease. In excessive amounts the rumen bacteria can become overwhelmed, resulting in accumulation and toxicity.

Respiratory distress is a symptom of toxicity, and can be accompanied by neurological signs when the animal is close to death. However, a gradual increase in available nitrate levels can be well tolerated by ruminants.

Poor gut adaptation can result in symptoms of toxicity related respiratory distress, and also in the neurological condition, Polioencephalomalacia (PEM).

For further advice on canola hay, feed testing, supplementary feeding, and livestock health,  contact your nearest Central Tablelands Local Land Services vet or livestock officer in Bathurst, Cowra, Lithgow, Molong, Mudgee or Orange.