Last year, Irvin Yeager, Dighton, KS, chopped and ensiled a field of wild annual kochia that survived in his drought-prone region of the High Plains. When hay supplies got tight, he fed it to 2,000 head of beef cattle.
The cattle feeder knew what he was doing. He’s had 10 years’ experience in feeding annual kochia silage with corn or dried distillers grains. “I use it as my roughage source in my finishing ration, and it works just fine,” Yeager says.
Annual kochia, considered a weed, is not to be confused with forage kochia, a perennial, seeded crop. Annual kochia’s advantage: it produces forage with only 6” of annual precipitation, says Dale Blasi, Kansas State University Extension beef specialist. But it needs to be watched for nitrate and oxalate poisoning, and palatability can be an issue.
The protein content of annual kochia can range from 22% to 11%, decreasing with maturity. For best quality, Yeager says, it should be cut waist high.
But before feeding kochia, check its nitrate levels. Feeding it half-and-half with another forage, such as a native grass, helps prevent or reduce toxic effects, studies have shown.
“Obviously, it’s not the highest-, best-quality stuff,” says Blasi. If it’s not ensiled, kochia should be processed to reduce particle size and increase palatability. Expect 10-15% waste if it isn’t processed, he says.
Yeager would have liked more tonnage from last year’s crop. “Because it was volunteer, it wasn’t as heavy as a seeded crop, so we didn’t quite get the tonnage that the (custom) choppers needed per acre,” he says. “So I ended up having to pay the choppers a little extra per acre to handle it.”
Last year’s kochia yielded about 7 tons/acre of silage. Had conditions not been so dry, Yeager adds, tonnage would have been significantly higher.