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Get more from lower quality hay

Jeff Caldwell 11/11/2011 @ 9:32am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

With a lot of quality issues around the country with this year's hay crop, livestock feeders need to watch what they're feeding their animals now more closely than ever.

In the southern Plains, both quantity and quality are big issues this fall. But, in the eastern Corn Belt, there's plenty of hay, but quality is the big issue this year, says Ohio State University Extension beef specialist Rory Lewandowski.

"We had decent amounts of hay in terms of tonnage, but the quality, especially of that first cutting, is going to present a problem," Lewandowski says, adding the issue's epicenter is in southeastern Ohio.

Adding to the hay quality issues in the eastern Corn Belt is the crop mix for most producers. Row crop farmers faced their own tough circumstances this year, and putting up hay was typically seen as a lower priority than taking care of corn and soybean acres.

"In many cases producers were stuck putting off cutting hay because they were still planting corn and soybeans during the optimum window for first cutting. Sometimes we had a trade-off getting crops in versus getting hay made," Lewandowski says. "Quality reflects that lateness of making the hay."

The result is, especially with first-cutting hay, lower nutritive value. Feeding hay like this alone can have far-reaching consequences to your herd, but there are ways Lewandowski says you can avoid letting lower-quality hay hamper your feed gains.

"You really need to have an idea of what that quality is to make determinations about when to use it and what type of supplementation, if any, is necessary," Lewandowski says. "You can't do that simply by guessing."

  • Feed lower-quality hay first. Save better hay -- which in Ohio is that from the second and third cuttings this year -- for later in the year when cows are in the last 3rd of the gestation cycle. "Feed poorer-quality hay and let grass pastures recover and stockpile," Lewandowski recommends. "That early hay will not be adequate nutrition for late-gestation needs of the cow. You don't want to depend on that hay in the late winter and early next spring."

  • Use a tub grinder. One way to get more out of lower quality hay is by grinding it and to increase digestibility. Though it's a costly piece of equipment, Lewandowski says farmers could pool resources and buy a grinder together.

  • Manage pasture carefully. Don't quit relying on pasture grass until you know it's not offering any more feed. "We're still probably not at that point where grass growth has really quit yet, so we caution producers not to overgraze at this point in the year," Lewandowski says. "Once we get a few hard frosts, then we can start grazing a little more heavily over the winter and not be concerned with leaf residual area."

  • Consider strip-grazing. If you're using stockpiled feed stocks or planted wheat or oats to graze, look into strip-grazing to get some feed off those acres without over-grazing.

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