Photo by Lea Kimley.

Hay quality 2019; It’s Déjà vu all over again!

By Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County, Ohio State University Extension

Coming off a year where quality forages for beef cattle were in short supply throughout Ohio, now in mid-2019 we find that inventory remains critically low. With the National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) estimating only 60% of Ohio’s first cutting hay harvest was completed by the first of July, it’s apparent that Ohio cattlemen will again be faced with finding ways to make “feed” from hay that was harvested way past it’s prime.

As an example of the hay quality we’re seeing, a recent forage analysis on some Fairfield County mixed grass hay that was mowed on June 25th and baled on June 29 – after also getting lightly rained on once – came back showing 6.85% protein and 38.02% TDN (total digestible nutrients) on a dry matter basis. The ADF (acid detergent fiber) was 51.63% and the NDF (neutral detergent fiber) was 65.51%.

I could tell you that’s not good, but perhaps a better way is to compare it to wheat straw. When you look up the “book values” for the feed nutrient content of straw you find that for the most part, this hay is little better than typical wheat straw. With so much first cutting hay being made in late June and beyond this year, as Yogi Berra would have said, “it’s déjà vu all over again!”

Feed of the quality referenced in the forage sample analysis above and fed as long stem hay, even when offered in unlimited amounts, simply won’t satisfy the nutritional requirements of a cow at any time during the year, including during her time of least nutritional need when she’s dry during mid-gestation. Without amendment, feeding this quality of forage for very long results in cows with lesser body condition, delayed return to estrus, lower conception rates, lighter weaning weights, lower quality colostrum, and even perhaps weak calves at birth.

Processing or chopping mature, long stem, grass hay can increase the rate of forage digestion 30%

Considering that a forage supply and quality problem exists across Ohio and extends throughout much of the Midwest, it’s not realistic to expect we can replace all the poor-quality hay being made this year with purchased hay or a properly made second or third cutting. While growing additional forages on Prevented Planting corn and soybean acres for harvest this fall may relieve some of the pressure, it’s apparent it’ll be necessary to find ways to effectively utilize the lesser quality first cutting hay we presently have. There are options available to accomplish just that, and time to create and implement strategies that allows it without cow health suffering.

As you consider alternatives for making feed from late made, low digestible forages, and stretching the supply of any high quality forages that might be in inventory, consider this brief checklist:

Sample, test and inventory each lot of hay that’s made. Similar qualities of hay should be stored together in order that they can be found and fed at the most opportune times during the hay feeding season.
Can bunk feeding cows during the winter months be made an option? This allows for limited supplementation of extra energy and/or protein in the correct amounts at the correct times.
Could processing poor quality long stem hay into smaller particle size be made an option? Reducing the large particle size of mature long stem grass hay to two to 6 inches in length can increase the rate of forage digestion enough that it allows cows to consume 25-30% more forage daily.
Optimize the quantity and quality of subsequent hay cuttings this year by fertilizing now. At a minimum, applying 35 to 50 units of additional nitrogen will benefit future cuttings this year.
As the summer progresses, in this publication we’ll continue to look at forage quality and specific options for supplementing the hay we have in inventory. In the meantime, give serious consideration to how best you can grow additional feed yet this year, and strategically supplement poor quality forages, or process them into feed that’s more digestible.

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