Hot and dry summer growing conditions took a toll on hay yields on many Mid-South farms this year, and short hay supplies on many beef cattle farms have producers considering the use of broiler litter this winter. Handled properly, chicken litter can make a very good feed source.
Feeding boiler litter to cattle offers three advantages.
First, it is friendly to the environment.
Second, it provides an incentive for the proper management of this by-product by poultry and cattle producers alike.
Finally, broiler litter is usually a cheap source of feed nutrients.
Because the amount of bedding used and the number of batches of birds housed on the litter are not standardized or regulated, litter quality can vary considerably from one product to another. Therefore, it is very important to have each batch tested for nutrient quality.
Poultry litter analysis and testing services are available through local Arkansas county Extension offices. Poultry litter feed samples can be tested for moisture, crude protein, fiber and TDN calculated for a $15 fee.
All litter, regardless of its source, should be processed or deep stacked to eliminate pathogenic organisms. The two deficiencies associated with litter-grain mixes are vitamin A and fiber. Add vitamin A to the litter-grain mixes at 1500 IU per pound. Provide hay or pasture to meet fiber needs.
Bovatec or Rumensin can be added to litter mixtures fed to stocker cattle. They will help reduce the incidence of bloating. However, be sure horses are not running with the stockers.
Keep plain salt or trace mineral salt available free choice to cattle being fed litter.
For pregnant, non-lactating beef cows, a litter-to-corn ratio should be about 80:20; whereas, a lactating cow's ratio should be around 70:30. Always provide at least 2 pounds long hay per head.
Remove the litter-corn ration three to four weeks before calving. Cows will get too fat on litter-corn mixtures if allowed to feed free choice.
Feed heifers and dry cows in different pastures than wet cows to reduce under- or over-feeding.
For stocker cattle, the litter:corn ratio is around 50:50. Some cattle, especially calves, may not readily accept poultry litter. Separate these and adapt them slowly to litter by feeding more grain or adding dried molasses to the litter-grain mix.
An excellent fact sheet available at local Arkansas Extension offices is Feeding Broiler Litter to Beef Cattle by George Davis, Arkansas Extension livestock specialist. It contains additional information and recommendations on how to properly feed litter.