1982 - Volume #6, Issue #4, Page #28[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
They're Turning Cactus Into Cattle FeedCattlemen of the western plains region have probably wished many times that pricklypear cactus could be turned into cattle feed. Now, agricultural engineers are trying to make that wish come true.
In the USDA Crops Research Laboratory at Colorado State University, researchers Dennis Mueller and Marvin Shoop are developing a cactus harvester that will pick the plants and remove the spines from them. The fleshy part of the cactus has proven to be a nutritious feed which cattle will eat after the spines are removed.
The first stage of development has produced a machine that picks the cactus and lays it in windrows, removing up to 92% of the pricklypear cactus growth.
"The harvester is basically an International front-mounted side delivery rake," says Mueller. "We have now attached a conveyor, and we are working on a burner to be installed underneath the conveyor to singe off the spines."
The rake is supported on its own wheels which lets it ride close to the ground on any kind of contour. It has specially designed teeth that uproot the cactus and deposit it in a windrow. The rake bars have variable speed which is hydraulically controlled.
Developing the singeing apparatus will take some time, and Mueller won't speculate on how far down the road it is to a commercial machine.
Researchers do know that cattle will eat and gain well on cactus with spines removed. In tests at CSU, heifers gained 1 1/2 lbs. daily when their basal ration was supplemented with singed pricklypear. Without the pricklypear they gained .85 lb. daily.
Spineless pricklypears are 40% higher in carbohydrate than alfalfa hay, but they have only one-third as much protein. They are about equal in total digestibility.
Cattle like the fleshy cactus leaves once they're completely de-spined. They'll eat them even when small hair-like spines escape the burning process, but won't eat cactus with any of the large spines remaining.
If this machine can be perfected, it will have the double benefit of reducing undesirable range plants and providing nutritious feed. Pricklypear cactus is considered a problem on 79 million acres of plains rangeland from Canada to Mexico. In the worst infestations, cactus yields 1,000 lbs./acre of dry matter, compared with only about 300 lbs. of dry matter from grasses.
A complete study is now underway to evaluate cactus harvest, range renewal, cost of de-spining, cattle gains and other related problems.
For more information, contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Dennis Mueller, USDA Crops Research Laboratory, Colorado State Univ., Ft. Collins, Colo. 80523 (ph 303 484-8777).
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