Should you feed hay now or wait?


There are a limited number of days left in our growing season here in Ohio and the opportunity to increase your dry matter as stored feed or stockpiled feed before winter is winding down quickly.

The plants your livestock graze the next few weeks will impact those plants’ growth not only now, but possibly next year too. Others have written in this column about how grass plants produce buds for next year’s tiller development the fall before.

Feed hay now

We are moving through that time period now. Producers who want to generate the maximum amount of forage possible may be better off to feed hay now and allow their grass to grow, especially if they are planning to use paddocks where the plants did not have an adequate rest period before you turn your livestock in to graze them.

Stressed or weak plants do not form as many buds for future growth.


Paddocks grazed this time of year should only be used if they have been fully rested before grazing begins. This means they should have a good amount of top re-growth so root systems are fully charged with nutrients for winter.

Using stressed or overgrazed paddocks now will only cause you to have less grass next year. You will have unhealthy forage plants, their green-up/growth will be slower next spring and you’ll have to feed hay longer then.

If you are in this situation, why not feed some hay now? It may seem strange to place livestock in a small area now and feed hay while you still have grass that they could eat. However, allowing stressed pastures to grow an additional two-three weeks at the end of the growing season will be a great benefit to them.

These plants will produce additional dry matter and the forage produced now may be grazed in a few weeks once plants go dormant for winter. Grazing then will not stress the plants since they are dormant and will not be attempting to re-grow.

Slowing the rate of passage of high-quality feed is another reason to feed hay at this time of year.

Conditions similar to spring growth can occur in the fall. When very high-quality, high-moisture feed passes quickly through our livestock’s system not all nutrients are captured. Offering livestock low- to medium-quality hay as an additional source of dry matter will slow the passage of these feeds through their system and extend your standing forage.


Try sitting a bale out with your livestock and monitor what they do. As we move later into the fall a similar option may help producers who have some poor-quality hay they need to use before spring.

Offering your lowest-quality hay to dry cows while they are moving through high-quality stockpiled feed can be a way to make the best use of any poor quality forage you baled this summer.


Use electrified polywire fencing and step-in posts to limit the amount of stockpiled forage the livestock have access to. Giving them small breaks of stockpiled grass and providing your lower quality hay in bale rings allows the animals to somewhat “balance” their own ration since their nutritional needs are lowest after weaning.

For more information about fall pasture management or forage utilization to reduce feed costs, contact a member of Ohio State’s Integrated Forage Management Team. Names and contact information may be found at the web address,, under the directory link.

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