California growers converting rice straw to cattle feed
WILLOWS, Calif. — Some rice growers and University of California researchers say they have a solution for livestock producers confronted with feed shortages because of the drought.
The growers have been converting straw left over from harvest into “strawlage,” a moist feed that UC Cooperative Extension scientists say is on a par with a low-quality alfalfa.
Growers have plenty of the straw laying around after harvest now that the industry has stopped burning because of air quality concerns. With the drought leaving ranchers desperate for inexpensive feed, growers believe they’ve found a way to put the straw to good use.
Roy Sandoval, a Colusa County, Calif., rice and alfalfa grower, says he’s been making rice strawlage for about seven years. He says cows love it.
“It’s silage — that’s what it is,” he said. “It’s sweet.”
Sandoval was one of about 50 growers who attended a UCCE-sponsored workshop here on July 29 to either learn or teach their neighbors about the practice.
Extension advisors coined the term “strawlage” as a cross between straw and silage, cautioning that the feed is of lesser quality than true silage. And while they’ve been experimenting with making it since 1999, there are still many unknowns, farm advisor Glenn Nader said.
But Nader hopes to learn more this fall as more growers seek to make a little extra money while helping to feed nearby cows.
“There’s going to be a significant problem with feed coming into this winter and rice strawlage may be an answer,” said Peter Robinson, a UC-Davis animal science specialist who’s been helping with the research.
To be certain, turning the straw into feed can be labor-intensive and tricky. Because dried-out straw loses its nutritional value, the straw has to be baled immediately while it’s still moist, and growers cover the stacks with huge tarps to retain the moisture until it’s delivered and fed to cattle. Mold can be controlled by applying proprionic acid or a urea-and-nitrate solution.
The quality of feed can vary, too, depending on rice variety, nitrogen management and other factors, researchers said. Having turned black and a little slimy, the strawlage isn’t aesthetically pleasing. But most cows apparently don’t care.
“The cattle do eat this really well,” rancher Herb Holzaphel said during the workshop. “It didn’t feed as good as silage, but it fed better than normal straw.”
Rancher Henry Smith said he’s tried lots of different feeds in his cattle operation, including almond hulls. He said growers are still learning how to prepare strawlage, but it’s worth the effort.
“I think we’re just getting started at knowing what we should do and not do,” he said. “I say keep going … It really makes good feed if you luck out and do it right.”
University of California Rice Project: ucanr.edu/sites/UCRiceProject/