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Treating hay with urea - is it worth the risk?

“Be aware of the risks when applying urea to low quality hay”, is the advice from Central West Local Land Services Senior Land Services Officer Mixed Farming, Callen Thompson.

With feed supplies tight, many producers have been forced to use poor quality, very low digestibility hays, such as rice straw, as a feed source for their livestock.

To improve digestibility of poor quality hay by breaking down cell structure, some landholders have resorted to adding a urea/water mix to the hay, a process based on research undertaken in the 70’ and 80’s.

Although this method was developed more than 30 years ago, it is not usually common practice, and this may be because there are to a number of complications that can occur.

“If urea dispersal is not complete, or the treated bales are not covered for long enough, or there is a loss of gas, the process will not be successful,” Callen said

Exposure to high concentrations of urea is also a risk in this process, causing nitrate poisoning which can be fatal when fed out to stock.

“Once hay has been treated, only bales intended for immediate use should be exposed to outside air to prevent spoilage. Adequate precautions should always be taken when uncovering treated bales to prevent inhalation of dangerous gases.” Callen said

An alternative to undertaking this process is the addition of energy and protein from another feed source such as grain, while utilising high fibre hays as roughage.

Central West Local Land Services Coonabarabran based District Vet, Sarah Maher, said that if producers would like to improve the palatability of hay or rice straw, they could consider spraying bales with a commercial molasses mix, and supplying a separate protein source.

“A commercial molasses and urea mix which contains an appetite inhibitor could be fed in conjunction with rice straw. This won’t increase the digestibility of the straw, but it will improve feed intake.” Sarah said

If you are considering treating your hay with urea and are unfamiliar with the practice, or you have questions regarding drought feeding in general, contact your Local Land Services Ag Advisory Officer or District Vet.


Media Contact: Fiona Townsend, 0428 284 252