Farm Talk

September 19, 2012

Tips for stretching the winter hay supply

by Doug Toburen
CNHI

Parsons, Kansas — Recent rains have done a lot for the crops in the fields, the forage in the pasture and the attitudes of producers, however, the drought of 2012, in many ways, has already done its damage.

One of the hardest hit areas was definitely this year’s hay crop and that is easy to see when looking at the winter hay supply.

That is why Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri, agronomy specialist insisted that producers look at ways to stretch their hay supplies at the recent University of Missouri Southwest Center Field Day held near Mt. Vernon, Mo.

“It is no surprise that this year was a tough year in the forage department,” he explained. “In Missouri, we harvested about half the hay we usually harvest.”

That, according to him, has run up hay costs, coupled with the fact that corn and soybean prices are already high, he said producers may be in for a rough winter.

“We need to ask ourselves how we can use limited feed supplies for the beef cow herd,” Kallenbach said.

One of the first options Kallenbach offered those in attendance at the field day was to start looking at herd reduction.

“You need to be preg checking and selling open cows,” he said. “Culling is another important part of this. Cull those cows that didn’t raise a good calf as well as those cows that breed late.”

He also recommended culling problem cattle.

“You know the ones I’m talking about,” he said. “The ones that kick and run you over when you are working them. Cull those cows in your herd that are a pain to handle.”

Another option Kallenbach recommended was to evaluate the cow herd then categorize hay by quality.

“Not all hay on the farm is equal,” he explained. “Take a look at what you have and determine how unequal it is.”

After determining cattle body condition and hay quality, split the herd by body condition and feed groups separately.

“This is when you are going to feed your better quality hay to your lighter or thinner cows and heifers,” he said.

When feeding hay, Kallenbach told producers that uncontrolled access to hay accounts for feed losses ranging from 30 to 70 percent.

“That can equal from $3 to $8 in feed costs per day depending on utilization,” he explained. “Feed quality and utilization falls throughout the season.”

The specialist recommended producers use bale rings or feeders to feed hay. However, he stressed the fact that there should be a slot for each cow at the bale ring.

“If you don’t ensure a slot for each cow there will always be that one bossy cow that is pushing the others out of the way so she can eat more, when she probably doesn’t need any more,” he said.

Another method of stretching hay supplies this winter is limit feeding hay.

“Research has shown that by limiting the amount of access cattle have to hay they are more likely to benefit from it,” he explained. “This is just a matter of opening the gate, letting them feed for a certain amount of time then letting them out.”

The research Kallenbach cited conducted limit feeding sessions of four, eight and 24 hours.

“By limiting feeding to an eight hour access period the herd will eat 90 percent of

what they would eat in comparison to a 24 hour period,” he explained. “This stretches the hay supply 10 percent. Although that may not sound like much it can get you a little further through winter.”

Unrolling hay has also become a method adopted by area producers. This, according to Kallenbach can be a good way to stretch the hay supply if done correctly.

“If this is done daily and if you unroll the amount they need for a day this can work out well,” he said. “Feed loss is usually in about the 12 percent range and that is tolerable.”

He went on to say that there are advantages and disadvantages to unrolling hay to the beef herd.

“One of the problems is over or under feeding the herd,” he explained. “However, there are some benefits, including less mud and the cattle are moving the nutrients around the farm.”£