Muka-- Tree Hay as an Alternative Livestock Feed

Progress report for FNE23-063

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2023: $10,706.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2025
Grant Recipient: O'Meara Family Farm
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
John O'Meara
O'Meara Family Farm
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Project Information

Project Objectives:

This project seeks to develop an efficient way to dry and store relatively large amounts of tree hay (muka) on farm.  This project will do the following:

1. Determine the labor and cost required to harvest and store muka using a wood chipper and a modified grain dryer.

2. Evaluate which of three variants of muka are the best supplemental feed for beef cattle.  The three variants  ( poplar,   black spruce, 50% poplar/50% black spruce) will be tested for nutrition at DairyOne in New York.  It will be tested for protein, nitrogen, and trace minerals.  The muka will be fed in the fall and winter of 2023-2024.  A control of just hay-- our normal ration-- will also be fed and compared to the other three feeds. 

3. Evaluate palatability of the feed including how much is consumed and how much is wasted. 

4. Evaluate cattle for weight gain and body condition while being fed the muka. 

5. Determine which of the three feeds is the most appropriate for beef cattle and produce a financial and nutritional analysis of the feed in comparison to other forages.


Cost of production has been on the rise for livestock farmers.  All inputs-- including feed, fertilizer, fuel, and labor have gotten increasingly expensive in recent years.  In addition, more erratic climate patterns have made livestock farmers more economically vulnerable.  In the northeast during drought, many farmers have had to resort to trucking feedstuffs in from distant places-- an expensive practice that has a significant environmental impact.  This project aims to develop a feed that can be produced cheaply on-farm, in times of drought and at times of the year when other feedstuffs can not be harvested.

Although currently underutilized, tree hay has been fed to livestock for centuries-- particularly in Russia, where it is known as muka. (Young.) As a feed, it has several advantages.  Trees are quite resistant to drought and other weather extremes and can be harvested when other forages do not produce.  In the northeast, trees are plentiful.  Maine, for example, is the most forested state.  Most farmers own or have access to an underutilized woodlot.  In addition, tree hay as produced in this project could be produced in coordination with a nearby logging operation, making a useful feed out of the twigs, leaves, and small branches that would otherwise go to waste. A cheap, plentiful, quality feed can only help productivity and economical viability for livestock farmers in the northeast.

Shipping is not going to become cheap.  Having hay or other feeds shipped in from the Midwest or from Canada is not a viable financial option in the long term.  Also, local feeds reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture.  The closer a feed is produced to the farm it is fed on, the less environmental impact that feed has.

Tree hay also improves the economical situation for farmers because it can be produced in coordination with logging.  Lumber prices are high-- a farmer could cut some trees, make the twigs, branches, and leaves into feed, and also make a profit from selling the logs or lumber.

Tree hay is the ultimate resilient crop.  The forests of the northeast fortunately recover from thinning quite quickly.  Tree hay can also be produced via pollarding--  cutting off selected branches of the tree while leaving the stem intact.  In this way, a woodlot can produce tree hay indefinitely.  Also, if a farmer were set up to easily harvest and store tree hay in volume, that farmer could make use of the inevitable blowdowns that regularly occur in any woodlot.  Resistant to drought and other extreme weather, regenerative, and readily available, tree hay is bound to increase the resiliency of livestock farms in the northeast.

Another challenge livestock farmers currently face in the northeast is availability of land.  Land prices have risen sharply in recent years because of the pandemic and various other reasons. Many people have chosen to move to more rural areas, sometimes changing the status of rented agricultural land.  High food prices have also contributed to agricultural land being more in demand and sometimes harder to access.  Using trees as feed increases the amount of cropland available to livestock producers.

In addition, tree hay diversifies the nutrition being delivered to the livestock.  Several species of trees have been shown to contain minerals and other nutrients not readily available from other sources. (Dickson.) ("Underutilized Resources..") This project will do a detailed nutritional analysis to determine the nutrient content of the species involved.



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  • Dr. Nicholas Rowley - Technical Advisor


Materials and methods:

This project will begin in March of 2023.  The first step will be to construct a modified grain dryer based on one built at Butterworks Farm in Vermont, where I worked in 1991.  The grain dryer consists of corrugated metal rings and a screened floor on a small trailer.  It is fitted with a fan and connected to a small wood stove. (See diagram)  It will differ from a grain dryer mostly in the size of screen used--  I believe larger holes will be more appropriate for muka.    Relatively cheap to construct, this grain dryer-- now a muka dryer-- is portable and well within most farm budgets.  It will hold roughly two tons of muka.  We will record the labor and cost of materials required to build the muka dryer.

Leaves are out on the trees in late May in Aroostook County.  We will start making black spruce muka as soon as the dryer is complete and proceed with poplar muka when the poplar leaves are out.  We own 100 acres of mixed woodlot which has had very little logging done on it in the past forty years.  It is dominated by spruce and fir with white birch, poplar, yellow birch, brown ash, and white cedar.  For this project we will focus on thinning some of the spruce and poplar.   I am experienced in sustainable forestry --  I use a team of oxen along with trucks and tractors.  The oxen will haul the branches to a landing where the chipper and dryer will be located.  Because everything is portable, we can switch landings as necessary to make the process as efficient as possible.

The goal will be to get the muka dried to 15% moisture.  In sunny weather, I believe this can be accomplished without the use of the dryer.  We will harvest trees with the oxen and chip the leaves, twigs and branches (no larger than 1/4") using a tractor mounted with a fairly large wood chipper.  We will record yield per tree-- recording the dbh of the trees and how much muka is produced along with time/labor required.  We will also record the drying process and how long it takes to achieves 15% moisture.  In sunny stretches of weather, the branches will be left to dry, chipped, and tested for moisture and put in the dryer as necessary.

The goal will be to produce roughly 20 tons of muka before hay season gets into swing in July.

The muka will be stored under black plastic topped with tires as in a silage clamp.  The two species will be kept separate.

The muka will be tested for nutrient content at Dairyone in New York-- We plan on doing wet chemistry analysis via the "Ration Balancer Plus" package, which tests for lignin as well as energy, protein and other nutrients.

Grazing season in Aroostook County ends in October.  In October we will start feeding hay (timothy/clover mix) along with muka.  The hay fed will be tested also so we know what quality hay we are starting with. 

We will be feeding a herd of thirty-two beef animals ( dexters) born in the spring of 2023.  The animals will be evaluated for body condition and scored prior to feeding.  They will be divided into four groups of eight.  The animals will also be taped to determine weight before feeding starts.  Group one will be fed 80% hay, 20% poplar muka.  Group two will be fed 80% hay, 20% black spruce muka.  Group three will be fed 80% hay, 20% muka which is half poplar and half black spruce.  Group four will be the control and fed our normal ration-- clover and timothy hay.   (Initially, the animals will be gradually transitioned from all hay to 20% muka over a two week period so they don't experience any digestive problems.)

Feeding this ration will proceed for the duration of the winter (roughly 200 days) at which time the animals will be evaluated, taped, and scored for body condition again.  

Throughout the course of the project we will record how much of the muka is consumed daily and how much is wasted.  Body condition and weight gain will also be recorded for each animals each month.  In the end we will tabulate how much it cost to produce the muka and provide a financial analysis comparing it to other feeds.  We will also provide a nutritional analysis comparing each type of muka to other feeds.

Research results and discussion:

2023 was an exceptionally rainy year in northern Maine.  Because the adverse weather made all operations on the farm more time consuming, we asked for an extension of the project.  The goals and objectives of the project remain the same but we will now conclude the project at the end of May, 2025.

So far we have gathered materials and begun constructing the  modified grain dryer that will be used to make the muka.  The grain dryer should be done by March 2024, at which time we will begin making muka as outlined in the proposal.

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.