Hay shortage starting to sink in; take time now to get ahead for next year

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SALEM, Ohio – Nobody’s letting go, and for good reason.
Any farmer with baled hay to burn is holding it tight, knowing dairymen, beef and sheep producers, and horse and llama owners will keep scrambling to find forages, and that they’ll open their wallets wider and wider to pay for it as winter sets in.
That’s according to Knox County Extension agriculture educator Jeff McCutcheon, who blames a warm-then-freeze spring and summer drought for limiting the crop and holding many Ohio farmers to only one or two cuttings.
Spotty. Hay is so scarce in some areas, McCutcheon says, he’s seen poor quality round bales bringing upward of $40 apiece.
Some producers planted oats after wheat harvest this summer, and took that crop off as hay. It’s decent quality, McCutcheon said, but at only 2 or 3 tons per acre, one thing is for sure: Producers will still need to buy hay to get to spring.
Alternatives. McCutcheon urges producers to look at less costly feed alternatives, such as corn. He said corn, even at today’s high prices, is still cheaper to feed than hay on a nutritional basis. Hay has only half the energy value of corn, he said.
If one must feed hay, McCutcheon warns that a forage test may be in order.
“There are wide quality differences in hay. You can be feeding plenty of hay and the cows are perfectly full but losing body condition,” he said, pointing to low quality hay as the culprit.
“Know what you have, then mix and match to meet nutrient needs.”
Grazing? Another option is to graze corn stalks, McCutcheon said.
He recommends grazing the stalks in the field instead of baling them, since cattle can take full advantage of the feed value in the leaves and grain left on the ground.
A field of corn stubble is “decent feed for 60 days after the combine comes out of the field, then it starts to degrade.”
Getting ahead. No matter if the mow is full or if you’re already scraping by, now is the time to look ahead to next year’s forage and pasture situation, and to get out there and fertilize existing pastures, McCutcheon said.
Pastures are our most neglected crop, but they shouldn’t be, he said.
He recommends fertilizing pastures until Thanksgiving, since pasture grass species are still actively growing tillers and roots for next year. A soil test can spell out specifically what’s needed.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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