Wow! What a hay making season. In our part of the state there were no three-day windows for making dry hay until the latter part of June.
Of course I tried to take advantage of a couple early opportunities when the weather stations were predicting no rain for three consecutive days, as I left the house to mow, only to hear the forecast was changed the next morning.
Making hay early in the season can increase the quality value of the forage if you get the hay dry enough to bale.
Just as important as high quality hay, for some grass farmers (rotational grazers), early harvest of paddocks add more acres to pasture area available for later rotations of livestock.
Getting these paddocks into the rotation early helps lengthen the resting/growing time for other paddocks. This has not been extremely critical this year, but after last year’s drought many were skeptical back in June.
Tonnage. Back to the hay quality issue. When did you get your hay made? Chances are it was at least ten days to two weeks (maybe more) later than normal, but you probably had more tonnage than usual.
Was that a good thing? Do you know how much feed value was lost by delaying that harvest? Taking forage samples and having them tested in a laboratory will reveal the quality of the forage you harvested.
Data recorded in 1999, by extension agents at the Belle Valley Research Farm, showed a mixed grass/legume hay sample taken June 2 had crude protein of 13 percent, a relative feed value of 91 and 5,315 pounds of dry matter per acre.
Another random sample was taken from the same general area two weeks later. Analysis showed this hay sample contained 7.6 percent crude protein, had a relative feed value of 79 and there were 6,902 pounds of dry matter per acre.
Decreasing quality. From this you can see how the quality of the forage was rapidly going down while the tonnage rose considerably. Much of the hay harvest this year did not get started until June 20 or 21 and many fields were harvested after that.
What do you think will be the nutrient quality of this hay? Will it be sufficient to maintain livestock this winter? Relative feed value of many lots of hay will be in the 70s and lower this year.
Hay with a relative feed value of approximately 70 would be considered marginal quality feed for dry beef cows in their second trimester. Higher quality feed should be used nearer and during lactation.
If you can not supply a good quality feed the question becomes, “Can the cow physically eat enough of this low quality hay to satisfy her nutritional needs?”
Will you need supplementation of energy and/or protein to keep your livestock from losing excessive body condition.
Body condition. Re-breeding and a host of other items may become a problem if a large amount of weight is lost during early lactation. Beef cows should maintain a minimum body condition score of 5, using the body condition score system, to consistently exhibit pregnancy rates over 75 percent.
If you have low quality feeds, how are you planning to use them? First, determine which livestock need the best feed.
Young growing animals and lactating livestock generally need higher quality rations. Set aside feed that will meet their requirements and feed it at the appropriate time.
Balance. Supplementation with protein such as soybean meal or cottonseed meal and an energy source like grain is common. Balancing the ration should be done to ensure enough nutrients are in the diet, but over supplementation is not occurring causing unneeded expense.
Just supplementing with protein tubs is generally not the best economic option because many times very little energy is added in the formulation.
Much more economical sources such as corn gluten pellets or other products can supply energy at much less cost.
Shop around for satisfactory pricing and compare nutrient levels. Mixing low quality feeds with a higher quality second cutting hay or stockpiled forage could be another option for your feeding program.
Promote growth. Most stockpiled forages accumulated from August to the end of the growing season will maintain their quality until January and beyond.
Applying 40-50 units of nitrogen per acre in August will promote growth of more forage and increase the quality of the stockpile.
It is not uncommon to have better quality forage stockpiled in the field in November, December and January than first cutting mixed grass hay that was harvested during the summer months.
To blend these feeds and get a high utilization of stockpiled forages, use a “hot” front wire to limit the amount of stockpile available while offering lower quality round bales in the same paddock.
Literature. Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet AS-1-99, Winter Supplementation of Beef Cows and Bulletin 872 Maximizing Fall and Winter Grazing of Beef Cattle and Stocker Cattle contains in-depth information, research data and examples for winter feeding options.
There are many choices available to farm managers, but now is the time to assess your situation and prepare for the winter feeding season.
Prime stockpiling season is just around the corner. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.
Maybe it will take a combination of options, but planning now will help you keep winter feeding cost to a minimum.
(Mark Landefeld is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent in Monroe County, Ohio. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)