Undoubtedly, winter feeding practices of livestock varies from farm to farm as much or more than any other feeding period the entire year.
Winter feed. Some producers are already feeding round bales of hay in racks or bale rings, others are unrolling bales over hillsides, still others are using a tractor and mechanical unrollers to feed hay while some producers still have grass available for livestock to graze.
Winter feed is generally the most expensive foodstuff livestock consume during the year.
Fowler and Stout (1989) found that feed costs were more than 90 percent of the variable costs livestock producers incur, and that hay production accounted for a major portion of that 90 percent.
Other comparisons. Other economic comparisons of conventional hay feeding systems versus predominantly grazing systems in beef operations found variable and fixed costs were lower in all predominantly grazing based systems.
Winter feed, in the form of stockpiled forage, usually costs the producer from 20 cents to 60 cents per head per day for cows while feeding stored hay products generally costs more than $1 per head per day.
In Ohio. For many producers in Ohio hay is fed each year from mid October until the middle or last of April.
This amounts to 180-200 days using stored feed.
Good planning and efficient use of forages in grazing programs can supply stockpiled pasture well into the winter, cutting feed costs nearly in half when compared to feeding hay the entire time.
Think about the future. If you do not have any stockpiled feed left for grazing at this time of year, you may want to begin planning changes in your management strategies for next year’s production.
Different cases. Obviously different situations exist on all farms and must be handled accordingly.
Cow-calf operations may have several classes of animals at one farm such as replacement heifer calves, bred heifers, bulls, dry mature cows in different stages of pregnancy or possibly lactating cows.
Livestock should be grouped and fed accordingly if possible.
All of these animals have different nutrient requirements, not to mention weather conditions like wind chill or mud which may cause the animals system to need more total digestible nutrients at any one given time.
Simply feeding more hay does not solve most nutrient deficient forage problems.
Ruminant livestock can only eat so much hay per day and this amount is directly correlated to the quality of the forage offered.
The case for quality. The better the forage quality the more an animal can eat because their system breaks down the forage faster and excretes the unuseable portion of the feed as manure.
Lower quality forages move slower through the rumen and do not supply as much nutrition pound for pound as high quality feed sources.
If feeding low quality forages continues long enough, loss of weight will be seen and “starving with a full belly” may be the result.
Body condition. Body condition cores of your livestock should be considered at regular intervals during the year and especially during the winter feeding months.
If an animals body condition begins to go down it is a good indicator that the animal is not getting enough nutrients from it’s food source.
What’s needed? Additional protein or energy may be needed in the diet.
Randomly adding protein lick tubs or another source of supplement may solve the deficiency, but it may come at a much higher dollar cost to the producer than necessary.
Knowing the quality values of the various forages you have to feed makes balancing a ration relatively easy.
If supplementation is still needed, feeding the proper type product and correct amount of supplement makes the most economical feed source.
A laboratory generally charges $16-$20 to run a forage sample analysis.
Know the value. Knowing the feed values of stored feeds and stockpiled forage takes most of the guess work out of feeding livestock through the winter.
Feeding the correct amount of nutrients to each class of livestock reduces costs associated with over feeding, but probably more importantly eliminates underfeeding and the many problems that occur when a diet is nutrient deficient.
Beef cows should maintain a minimum body condition score of 5, using the Body Condition Score (BCS) system to exhibit acceptable reproductive performance.
Publication. Ohio State University Extension publication L-292 shows pictures and provides descriptions of each score ranking.
This publication may be picked up at many Extension offices or may be accessed on the World Wide Web at http://ohioline.osu.edu/l292/index.html.
Taking a forage sample is not hard work.
Also, most Extension offices have hay core sampling equipment they can let you borrow to take your samples.
It is not to late to have forage analyses done.
Help is available. The Agricultural Extension Educator in your county or members of the Ohio State Forage Team are available to help you formulate balanced rations once you have test results.
Testing forages regularly gives you, the producer, dependable information upon which to make decisions and effectively control your livestock’s winter feed costs.
(The author 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.)