Don’t cut corners or you’ll regret it

If you’re like me, it doesn’t take you long to count the number of hay bales you have remaining for this year’s winter feed. I’ve counted and recounted many times this year and kept recalculating how many pounds of feed were left compared to the number of days I anticipated having to feed hay.

Last summer’s growing conditions left most farmers in the area with very limited amounts of stored feed for this winter. Many producers I know have had to change from their normal way of feeding and use concentrated feeds this year to extend their hay supply because they could not find hay to buy, at least at what they thought was a reasonable price.

Stretching

I think we’re all looking forward to green grass that will soon be here. Many producers are cutting it very close and some may not be feeding quite as much hay as they should be.

However, trying to stretch what hay they have until enough grass grows or feeding low-quality feed without proper supplementation may be very costly to their operation.

According to the National Research Council, a 1,200-pound cow producing 20 pounds of milk requires approximately 26 pounds to 27 pounds of dry matter each day (or approximately 31 pounds of hay as fed); that is 10-12 percent protein and about 61 percent total digestible nutrients.

That would be considered a minimum amount in optimum weather conditions while cold, windy, wet, icy and muddy conditions increase maintenance requirements, so the need for more feed or a higher-quality feed would be necessary.

Many first-cutting hay samples I’ve seen in laboratory test results do not have quality numbers that were equal to or better than those listed above. So producers should be watching their cattle closely.

Undernourished

Undernourished animals can have very weak and slow-growing newborns and many times, the problems do not stop there.

Early lactation is the time of highest nutritional requirements for beef cows and if animals are already beginning to lose weight from not having enough high-quality feed, they most likely will not rebreed in that 60- to 90-day window after calving that we try to achieve.

This can mean losing production from the current newborn calf and cow during this lactation and from the cow’s next lactation if she does not rebreed in a timely manner.

Many universities studies show when cows lose body condition from calving time to the breeding season, their conception rates plummet when trying to get cows rebred within that optimum window.

Each cycle missed when a cow does not rebreed can easily mean $60-$75 lost on next year’s calf or nearly $150 from missing two cycles.

So, don’t try to squeeze by and let the cows lose body condition, because it will probably cost you more money in the long run.

Fertilizer

Another production practice I’m hearing producers are really struggling with for the coming year is fertilizing their hay crop because of fertilizer prices.

Maybe this is the year to stop making your own hay and buy the amount you need from another local producer. For most small and some midsize producers, this would be the most profitable option; $2,000 is going to buy 3.5 tons to 4 tons of fertilizer at prices I’m hearing.

How much hay can you buy for that amount and maybe graze some of your meadows? If that is not what you want to do, my next question would be: “Have you taken soil samples of all your fields in the last three years?”

Putting on the proper analysis fertilizer and the correct amount can save you a lot of money. It is expensive to put down nutrients you do not need, especially this year.

If your soil tests show adequate levels of phosphorus and potassium per acre (40 pounds to 50 pounds phosphorus and 225 pounds to 250 pounds potassium) you may not need to apply these nutrients on all of the hay ground.

Nitrogen

Maybe nitrogen would be the only limiting nutrient the plants need and they may not even need any additional nitrogen if you have 30-35 percent legumes in the stands.

Nitrogen fixed on the roots of legume plants can feed themselves and surrounding grass plants to provide adequate amounts of nitrogen for plant growth.

When fertilizers containing nitrogen are applied, be sure to do it properly. If nitrogen in the form of urea is to be broadcast over your fields and not incorporated, be sure to make the applications just prior to a rain.

At least one-quarter to one-half of an inch of rain is needed to move nitrogen into the soil, so it does not volatilize and you lose the benefit of your purchase.

Nitrogen used in blended fertilizers are often urea or ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate is a much more stable product, but its availability has been greatly reduced by Homeland Security measures after Sept. 11, 2001. Knowing what form(s) of nitrogen were used in your mix can be important to how and when you apply the product.

Also, don’t broadcast urea nitrogen over areas that have recently been limed (in the past six to 12 months) or volatilization will likely occur.

Maybe lime would be the best use of money you have to spend this year. If your fields have a low pH, say 5.5, there are many nutrients that cannot readily be taken up by forage plants even if you add them to the soil. Bringing the pH up to 6.0 or 6.5 can release nutrients that are already there in the soil, waiting to be used.

Only a soil test will tell.

Making hay

If you are going to make hay, not putting down enough nutrients can also be expensive. With the price of fuel and equipment, one should not be running over a lot of additional acres unless the yield and quality of the hay is good enough to warrant the action.

Putting more fertilizer on fewer acres can make “cents.” Making more forage per acre should not take much more time while mowing, raking and baling, but less acres to cover should speed up your ability to make hay in a timely manner to have a higher-quality end product.

First-cutting hay made in July just doesn’t have much feed value.

Fertilizing grass stands, if your pH is correct, with 50 pounds to 70 pounds actual nitrogen per acre usually increases yield by 2,000 pounds to 3,000 pounds.

So, on each acre, for $30-$45, you’ll gain two or three 1,000-pound bales. Looking at it this way, the extra bales would only cost you about $15 each since you were going to run the equipment over the acres anyway. Save yourself some headaches and money, too.

About the Author

The author is an Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator in Monroe County, Ohio. More Stories by Mark Landefeld

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