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7 tips to get livestock through the winter

As winter approaches, pasture and hay supplies could be short in many areas across the nation. University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Gene Schmitz has seven tips for livestock producers to consider when feeding their livestock this winter.

1.Test hay

“This is the simplest, most cost-effective practice you can do,” says Schmitz. “Sort hay supplies into quality groups and match the hay to the nutritional needs of each group of livestock. Then feed the appropriate supplement, if necessary, to each separate group based on their nutritional needs and quality of hay being fed.”

2. Reduce waste

Poor feeding practices can result in hay wastage of more than 25%. Cone-type hay feeders or tapered-bottom feeders greatly reduce hay waste, especially if they have a bottom skirt. If unrolling, limit the amount of hay being unrolled at a given time. Unrolling more than one day’s feeding will substantially increase hay waste.

3. Store bales to reduce waste

It’s a bit late for this now, Schmitz says, but another substantial source of hay waste is how the hay is stored. If covered hay storage is not a possibility, at least take measures to break soil-hay contact. Building rock pads or storing bales on pallets, tires or some other surface reduces waste on the bottom of the bale.

4. Fencing

Producers fortunate enough to have pasture or crop residues to graze can divide the fields into smaller areas with temporary fencing materials, Schmitz says.

“These are easy to move and can greatly extend the number of grazing days from a given area,” he says. “Fencing to provide one to two weeks grazing is acceptable.”

5. Limit feeding options

With adequate-quality forage, limiting cow access to hay feeders can reduce waste while achieving acceptable performance. Twelve-hour access seems to be a good compromise between performance and waste reduction, Schmitz says. Do not attempt this without a hay test, however.

Cows can be limit-fed a high-grain ration. This meets energy needs with less feed. Compare the cost of grain to hay on a per-unit-of-energy basis when considering this option. Some producers graze standing milo as an effective, lower-cost way to feed cows through the winter.

6. Know what bales weigh

“Let’s assume 1,200-pound bales can be purchased for $75 per bale, or $125 per ton,” Schmitz says. “If transportation and feeding losses are 25%, this means that only 900 pounds from each bale of hay actually gets into the livestock. This increases hay cost to $0.08 per pound or $167 per ton.”

If losses are cut to 10%, then 1,080 pounds of hay is consumed. “This reduces hay cost to just under $0.07 per pound or $140 per ton,” says Schmitz.

7. Push the pencil very hard if buying high-priced hay

“It may be more beneficial for the operation in the long run to cull animals rather than to try to purchase enough feed for the winter. This is not a one-size-fits-all option, however, so figure your operational costs and evaluate tax and other financial implications before making final decisions," he says. 

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