Plan ahead for winter feeding


Winter is here, are you ready? The single largest expense of keeping livestock is winter-feeding costs. Livestock owners can reduce and minimize the cost with a little planning.

It sounds strange, but feeding low quality hay now might be a good strategy to reduce winter-feed costs. The reason to feed poor quality hay now is that farm animals giving birth in the spring are currently in early to mid-gestation and have comparatively low nutritional requirements.

The nutritional requirements of livestock increases dramatically during late gestation and early lactation, therefore, feed high quality hay later in the reproductive cycle.

In addition, currently animals are experiencing little stress from the cold. As the winter progress, the nutritional requirements of livestock will increase because of cold stress.

Animals needing to maintain body condition, such as growing and gestating, first and second calf heifers can best use high quality forage.

Greatest factor

The greatest factor influencing forage quality is forage maturity. As a forage matures is becomes more lignified and less digestible. The presence of blooms and seed-heads may indicate advanced maturity.

Plan your winter-feed needs now. Do not get caught in late January, February or March needing feed and forage.

For example, how much forage does a 1,300-pound cow need for 150 days of winter-feeding? Accounting for feeding losses, hay storage losses and adjusting for hay dry matter content (DM), she may need nearly 8,373 pounds of hay.

For sheep, goats and cattle fed only hay take the total pounds of livestock times .043, times the number of days you have to feed and this will give you a rough calculation of the pounds of hay you will need to make it through the winter.

You can refine this calculation by adjusting for the class of livestock, forage quality, method of feeding and method of bale storage.


Another method of reducing winter-feed cost is to supplement with an economical grain concentrate. Select a concentrate based on animal nutritional needs, forage quality and economics.

Keep in mind that concentrates may increase total dry matter consumption and forage digestibility. The key here is being able to limit feed forage while feeding groups of animals separately.

To realize the economics of concentrate feeding, we may need multiple areas to feed groups of livestock while having the ability to store grain concentrates. Except for high fiber based supplements, concentrates are generally best fed daily.

Forage test

Finally, forage test. Forage testing allows you to feed the best quality to the animals that need it the most. Knowing the nutritional value of forage also allows you to make informed decisions when purchasing forage.

Forage test kits and forage probes are available from most extension offices. For instruction on proper forage sampling technique, refer to extension fact sheet “Forage Testing for Beef Cattle.” This fact sheet is available from your local extension office or at

Plan now to make the winter-feeding period less stressful and more economical

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