The quality and quantity of forage in Alberta, really Western Canada and below the 49th parallel, is extremely varied. Some producers have all they need, some are looking to buy and others have feed to sell. Those producers looking to buy forage feed need to be aware of the unwanted or unexpected plants they may be introducing to their farm or ranch through their purchases. It is very important to know what you’re buying.
Not all plants are alike. Some plants are beneficial to the farm while others could cause big headaches. A producer may be willing to accept some plants while others are ones that are simply not acceptable. Weeds fall into three categories; common, noxious and prohibited noxious. The latter two categories could create long term problems for control.
It is important for the person growing the forage to know what is growing in the field when the forage is cut and baled. It is also important for the buyer to ask what possible weeds could be in the forage before buying it and introducing it to the land.
If the forage is being bought from the neighbor across the fence, chances are, the weed species are close to the same. Wildlife are a very effective way of spreading seeds throughout the countryside.
If the feed is coming from a significant distance, the weed issues in one area could be very different than the weeds in another and by moving the forage in, weed problems are introduced.
Where the feed is fed during the winter also affects the decision. If the feed is going to be fed on perennial or native grasslands, the weed issue is even more important. The cost of introducing a problem weed to that area could mean the elimination of beneficial plants such as alfalfa, clovers, vetches that are killed or injured if herbicides are required to control the weed(s).
Utilizing the feed on land that will be tilled in the spring MAY reduce the concern and how the field is managed later will be very important.
A feed sample does not identify any of the plant species in the feed. There have been lots of articles about feed testing and that a visual appraisal does not tell the whole story; well this is a situation where a feed analysis won’t tell the whole story either. The only way to know what might be in the forage feed is to visually look for weeds or develop a rapport with the seller and feel comfortable enough to take their word.
Don’t expect rumen digestion, ensiling or composting to eliminate the weed issues. While these processes may reduce the number of viable seeds, they don’t guarantee the elimination of seeds that will germinate and create future problems.
As a final note, be sure to get an accurate weight on the bales, especially if they are being priced by the bale and not weighed and sold by the tonne.