Now that summer is under way, many producers are finishing first cutting hay and preparing to make second cutting. As rotational graziers, however, we should already be thinking about preparations for the fall and winter and how we will feed our livestock after forage growth has stopped.
While it may be a little early to actually start stockpiling forage for winter, thinking about your rotations and where livestock need to be in the next few days/weeks, to get the timing right to start your stockpiling, should be considered.
If your forages need 30-45 days re-growth during the warmer summer weather, livestock should be grazing areas you plan to stockpile as winter feed right now (mid-July), or before long. This should allow one more grazing pass before stockpiling begins in August.
Now is a good time to see what nutritional value you have captured in hay you’ve made.
Many producers were forced to wait longer than normal this year to start making hay because of wet weather conditions. Nutritional value may be lower than usual because as forages mature nutritional values generally decrease.
Feeding low quality hay to lactating animals, for extended periods of time, is asking for trouble. Take those samples now so you can start planning which lots of hay will be fed to which animals.
At a recent pasture walk, we observed two new feed pads a producer had built and will be putting into use this winter and spring. The pads were constructed as part of an EQIP project. Topsoil had been removed before geotextile cloth was laid; limestone and limestone screenings were spread, rolled-in and compacted.
Construction of new pads and maintenance done on old pads, at this time of year, allows time for the pad to become hard and better withstand use this winter or spring.
Waiting until fall to do repairs on existing pads or building new pads will not provide a surface as durable as pads allowed to stand unused all summer.
Worth the expense. If you have never used a heavy use pad, this may be the year to consider building one. Excessively muddy conditions at livestock feeding areas can have detrimental effects on farm operations. The animals have to expend a considerable amount of energy just to move through mud.
This can result in higher feed costs as well as reduced weight gain by livestock. Avoidance of muddy conditions can result in increased animal performance and significant monetary savings for producers.
Damage to grass and legume plants in ones paddocks may also be reduced if producers effectively use a heavy use pad.
Planning is needed to position a pad in a good place. Runoff will occur from heavy use pads just as if they were made of concrete. Runoff needs to be controlled to avoid polluting nearby waterways.
Construction should be in an elevated position out of areas prone to flooding. A pad should be designed to allow the operator easy access with equipment so the build-up may be scraped off when necessary.
A drinking water source for livestock should be provided on the pad or nearby with a lane constructed to it. The lane should be built in a manner similar to the pad. If not, mud will be an issue as soon as livestock step off the pad.
As producers haul hay off of their fields, they should remember they are moving nutrients, contained within the hay, that plants will need to grow.
Feeding hay in the field it was harvested from would be the best case scenario to replace/recycle nutrients, but that is not always possible. However, with some ingenuity, a water source, step-in posts, polywire and a portable energizer many possibilities exist today that were not feasible a few years ago.
Think about your situation? Maybe you can adapt some of your fields.
If hay bales are removed from a field to other feeding locations, producers may want to go ahead and preset bales in a grid pattern with spaces between each bale and the rows to allow for electric fence use later during feeding. This way bales would not have to be moved again with equipment.
Choose a well-drained site and preset bales in rows according to the number of bale rings you use and livestock you’ll be feeding at that location.
When hay is left uncovered and stored on the ground, loss occurs. How much loss one can afford must be determined by the farm manager for their situations.
Above and beyond the production costs, materials used for storing bales and the amount of loss incurred during storage must be considered if the producer wants to arrive at the true cost of the hay they feed. One can then determine if there is a less expensive method or more effective manner of storage that could be used.
The higher the quality of the hay, the greater the economic cost when forage loss occurs. A storage facility may prove to be feasible if you accurately calculate your costs.
A very good publication, Minimizing Losses in Hay Storage and Feeding, may be viewed or downloaded at the following website: http://msucares.com/livestock/beef/minhaylosses.pdf.
The bulletin discusses types of storage losses, factors affecting outside storage losses, storage methods, hay feeding methods and more.
It’s not too early to be planning your winter feeding strategies. Have you made any calculations yet to determine your needs?
Maybe you don’t need to harvest much or any second cutting hay. If livestock can be used to harvest the forage in hay fields now and let pastures rest, forage accumulated in pastures will last longer into the fall. Healthy rested plants grow strong root systems and that is what graziers should be striving for in their paddocks.