Supplementing low-quality forage


From extreme drought last summer to a record wet year we are experiencing now, things surely do change.

Have you been able to make necessary adjustments in your operation to offset these radical differences and plan for the months ahead?

Lack of quality. In our part of the state there was a lot of first-cutting hay made, but very little quality hay was harvested.

This should prompt us consider additional ways of feeding our livestock to keep enough nutritional feed in front of the animals without purchasing large quantities of expensive supplements.

Reasoning. Hay test results that I have seen from this year’s crop do not have quality values as high as our usual hay samples.

This is primarily due to advanced plant maturity because of our late harvest of first cutting.

I have also had many inquiries about moldy hay and its effect on livestock.

What to do with it. So, what do we do with this abundance of low quality first cutting feed?

We talk a lot about stockpiling grass, especially fescue, for this time of the year.

We have had an extremely late growing season this fall with the warm weather, so many producers are still using meadows instead of feeding hay or turning into their stockpiled grass.

Fescue and some other grass pastures are still growing, adding dry matter at this late date.

Answer. Fall-grown forage is some of the highest quality grass produced throughout the entire growing season.

Allowing animals to consume this higher quality grass along with low-quality hay may be the answer for some producers.

Providing hay bales, along with grass in meadows or stockpiled pastures, will help utilize the lower quality first cutting feed we have.

Portable fence should be used to limit the amount of grass offered with the hay.

Feeding bales. Some producers do not like to feed round bales in their meadows. Tracking around bale feeders may cause reduced production for next year’s forage crop.

Unrolling the hay will reduce the amount of damage that may occur if the soil is soft. Placing an electric wire over the unrolled hay, using step-in posts, will reduce hay losses from trampling.

Unrolling only the amount of hay needed for one day’s consumption also helps reduce loss.

Body condition. Producers will need to watch livestock’s body condition extremely close this winter.

If hay from some test results I have seen this year is the only feed given to late gestation and or lactating cows, those cows could be starving to death with full stomachs.

Livestock have limits to the amount of forage they can physically consume in a 24 hour period.

Low quality hay simply cannot provide enough nutrients in relationship to the amount the cow can eat.

When to save. Everyone usually feeds their lowest quality hay first saving the higher quality feed for later use or to feed young growing livestock.

This is an acceptable practice, but because of the larger quantity of first cutting hay, it may last longer than usual.

Also, the quality is lower so a watchful eye is needed.

If loss of body condition is noticed, a change in ration may be needed. (Note: Body condition score charts for beef cattle are available through your local extension office.)

Quality feed. Knowing the quality of your feed is the key.

If you have had your hay tested to determine quality, it lets you evaluate feeds to decide if supplementation is necessary and which hay should be fed to certain animals.

Supplementation to the diet with corn and other concentrates may be your option.

You should carefully consider the cost and amount of feed needed to maintain an adequate ration so you keep production costs low if you choose this method.

Once again, hay quality test information should be used to assure adequate, not excessive, amounts of supplements are added.

Moldy hay. Moldy hay is a concern to many producers.

Noticeable mold growth occurs when hay is baled above the safe moisture level of approximately 18 percent for large, round bales and 20 percent for small, square bales.

Mycotoxins, which are poisons produced by these molds, can cause problems when the moldy hay is fed to animals.

There are many mycotoxins that vary in their chemistry and effects on animals.

The most critical situation is usually with horses. Horses should not be fed much moldy or dusty hay.

Effect on horses. Any hay (alfalfa, timothy or clover) containing mold can inflame a horse’s respiratory tract and impair its breathing ability.

Horses can develop permanent lung damage after consuming moldy or dusty hay.

Mold can have other detrimental effects on horses, such as causing digestive upsets and contributing to colic.

Cattle, sheep and goats do not like moldy hay so they eat less of it. This results in reduced performance from a lesser intake of hay.

Beef cattle frequently consume large, round bales of hay with some mold present and rarely have any problems.

However, abnormally moldy hay can lead to decreased intake, resulting in reduced performance, lower rate of gain, and cause reproductive problems.

Don’t force it. If moldy hay must be used, do not force the livestock to consume all of the bale(s) before more hay is offered.

Let the animals sort through the hay and eat what they want rather than forcing them to clean up the hay each feeding.

People, too, can be affected by mold spores.

It can cause a condition called farmer’s lung, so try to avoid breathing in dust and mold spores.

Feeding low quality first cutting hay can be accomplished without terrible problems if innovative methods to combine it with higher quality feed and common sense are used.      

(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.)

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