Feeding Poor Quality Hay

Posted by Travis Meteer on http://web.extension.illinois.edu/oardc/eb275/entry_10699/

Remember what a miserable year it was trying to get dry hay put up? In west-central Illinois, the rainy weather made it near impossible. In the month of May, we recorded rainfall on 15 of 31 days. In June, rainfall was recorded on 19 of 30 days. Here at the Orr Research Center in Perry rainfall totaled 26.5 inches for the months of May, June, and July. That is 68% of the normal annual rainfall in just 3 months.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude there are copious amounts of poor quality hay to be fed this winter. So what should you be aware of? What can you do to offset the lower nutritive value of this year’s hay?

First, a producer should take time to visually appraise the hay. Go ahead and smell it too. Is it moldy? Does it smell musty? Are the stems big and thick? Are weeds present? Are they woody? Are they spiny or thorny?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then hay intake will be lower. Nutritive value of the hay will likely be lower as well. If the mold infestation is severe, I would not risk feeding it to pregnant or lactating cows. I would consider not feeding it at all. If you must feed it, dilute it or roll it out to allow the cows to pick what they want. Offer them plenty of other feed choices while feeding high risk hay.

Another lurking problem is ergot. Nearly every pasture I was in this spring had some level of infestation. As a result, be looking for black seed heads that will resemble mouse droppings. If you see this, consider not feeding the hay or diluting it with other feedstuffs that are not contaminated.

It would be wise to approach this winter feeding period with a ration that has several components if possible. A diet of hay only has too many risks this year. Hay alone will likely not meet nutrient requirements either. I would consider feeding cornstalks, corn silage, grains, and co-products with your hay. Look at your local bids for feedstuffs. Formulate a least-cost ration with three or four ingredients. This should help mitigate risk of cows consuming too much of a contaminated feed.

I would recommend feeding DDGS or a co-product blend when greater than 7 pounds of corn is needed. Negative associative effects can occur when feeding corn grain greater than 0.5% of cow body weight.

Table 1 and 2 show the amount and cost of supplementing hay with differing energy content.

Table 1. Amount and cost of supplement to meet energy requirements for gestating 1400lb. cow
Hay, TDNCorn, lbCorn, $DDGS, lbDDGS, $
46, low intake9.9$0.678.4$0.54

Corn Price = $3.80/bu.

DDGS Price = $130/ton

Low intake = 1.5% of cow BW instead of 2%

Table 2. Amount and cost of supplement to meet energy requirements for lactating 1400lb. cow
Hay, TDNCorn, lbCorn, $DDGS, lbDDGS, $
46, low intake11.9$0.819.6$0.74

Corn Price = $3.80/bu.

DDGS Price = $130/ton

Low intake = 1.5% of cow BW instead of 2%

Grinding poor quality forages can help increase intake. Be aware of the cost associated with grinding (normally around $10/bale). Also, grinding and mixing hay with other ingredients makes it more difficult for the cow to sort around dangerous components. Thus, it would not be wise to grind moldy or ergot-infested hay and incorporate at high levels of the diet.

Be mindful of the concerns of this year’s hay crop: lower nutritive value, potential mold or ergot contamination, and lower intakes. Understanding the quality of hay can help farmers save cost on supplement, ensure cow’s nutrient requirements are met, and avoid under-supplementing or over-supplementing that may cause poor BCS and subsequent reproduction.


5 factors affecting winter supplementation in beef cattle

5 factors affecting winter supplementation in beef cattle

As winter weather sets in, here are five factors to consider when supplementing the cow herd.

In South Dakota, we’ve been experiencing a mild December so far. With little snow cover, our cattle are still grazing on corn stalks, and aside from a few mild winter storms, we haven’t had to feed too much hay as of yet. Aside from keeping waterers chopped out, we’ve just had to worry about offering lick tubs as supplemental nutrition.

I realize that the weather can change on a dime, and as soon as a major blizzard hits or the typical South Dakota winter chill sets in, we will soon need to feed more hay and increase our supplementation of the cow herd, particularly as they enter late gestation.

When cattle get wet from snow and are exposed to colder temperatures and bitter winter winds, energy requirements increase in the beef herd. There are many factors that impact the type and amount of energy cattle may require, including these five critical factors:

1. Forage quantity

According to Steve Hammack and Ron Gill, Texas A&M University Extension beef cattle specialists, “The amount of available forage obviously affects the need for supplemental feed. If grazing or hay will be limited, take immediate action. Reduce the number of animals in order to lessen the need for supplemental feeding of the remaining cows. As forage supply declines, the opportunity for animals to selectively graze decreases, and so does diet quality. Then, supplementation may become necessary even if animal numbers are reduced.”

2. Forage quality“Poor quality forage has less than 6-7% crude protein (CP) and is low in digestibility, with less than 50% total digestible nutrients (TDN),” say Hammack and Gill. “These deficiencies limit the amount of such forage that an animal can eat. Because both consumption and nutrient content of poor quality forage are low, supplemental needs are high. The amount a cow can eat in a day ranges from as little as 1.5% of body weight for very low quality forage to near 3.0% for very high quality forage. The typical amount is 2.0-2.5%.”

3. Body condition

Hammack and Gill write, “The level of body condition (amount of fat) affects supplemental requirements. Low body condition markedly increases the need for supplemental nutrients, and meeting such needs often is cost prohibitive. Moderate body condition significantly reduces or eliminates the need for supplements. Fleshy cows generally need little if any supplement and the daily amount of forage required often can be reduced. If forage consumption is not reduced, higher production is possible or reserves of stored body energy can be maintained.”

4. Milking level

“Higher milking cows can consume somewhat more forage, but not enough to com- pletely satisfy extra needs,” say Hammack and Gill. “When forage quality is inadequate, higher milking cows need more supplement; from 50% to 100% more may be required for high versus low milk production in cows of the same body size.”

5. Age

“Young animals are still growing and require extra nutrients, but their body size is not as large as mature animals,” they write. “Because of their smaller body size, growing heifers cannot consume as much forage as mature cows. For these reasons, young females require higher quality diets than mature cows and often require more and different supplements.”

In an article for Texas AgriLife Extension, Hammack and Gill explain the various supplementation options and how to calculate how much is needed based off the above factors. Read the entire article here.

What are your strategies for supplementing your herd during the winter months? Share your management practices in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

5 questions to ask before grazing corn stalk residue

5 questions to ask before grazing corn stalk residue

Here are five questions to ask before turning the cows on stalks, including: 

1. What’s left in the field? 

After the corn crop has been harvested, it’s good to know what’s left for grazing. It’s estimated that approximately 50% of the weight of the total corn plant remains in the stalk, leaf, cob and husk components. According to a report from Iowa State University’s Extension Beef Center, “For each bushel of shelled corn produced per acre, 50 pounds of residue is also produced. For example, an acre yielding 120 bushels of shelled corn per acre will produce approximately 6,000 pounds of corn residue.”

2. How long will it last?

With good weather conditions, it’s reasonable to assume that 1 acre of corn residue will provide 60 days of grazing for a 1,000-pound animal, according to the report. In the article from Iowa State University, “Mature cows in the middle trimester of gestation that are in desirable body condition typically maintain their body weight and may gain up to 1 pound per head daily. As the grain component is consumed and availability of husks and leaves declines, protein supplementation may be needed to maintain body condition.”

3. When should I supplement?

Fall calving cows may need protein and energy supplementation, and because corn stalk residue is typically low in a number of minerals as well as vitamin A, a balanced mineral and vitamin mix should be offered free choice. According to the report, “To determine if supplementation is necessary, observe the manure. If little or no corn is visible, protein supplementation should be considered. Sources include alfalfa, corn gluten feed, distillers’ grains.

4. How can I extend the grazing time?

Cattlemen should consider strip grazing to make the corn stalks last longer and offer a more uniform quality of diet. Limiting the amount of stalks the herd can graze at once will force them to be more efficient and consume both the high and low-quality components of the residue. Strip grazing can also limit the damage on the field due to mud or icy conditions.

5. Should I be worried about nitrate toxicity?

According to the report, “Another issue can be nitrate toxicity—especially during drought conditions. The highest level of nitrate concentration in the corn plant is in the lowest part (18-24 inches) of the stalk. This area is typically the last to be grazed by cattle. Therefore, the potential for nitrate issues is unlikely. Soil compaction can also be a concern. Recent research from the Iowa State University Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture suggests that compaction is not an issue once the ground is frozen. Prior to freezing, there is potential for slight reduction in yield for no-till soybeans, although there was no difference in soybean yield in conventionally tillage systems.”


by   in BEEF Daily

Five Keys to Winter Supplementation of the Cow Herd

1) Know the nutrient requirements of your cow herd.

Nutritional requirements increase significantly at the time of calving and it is important to adjust the feeding program accordingly to meet these requirements. Refer to ANR-0060 Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle for more information (www.alabamabeefsystems.com under the ‘Nutrition’ tab) on the daily dry matter, total digestible nutrients (TDN), crude protein (CP), and mineral needs of different classes of livestock.

2) Consider the source.

Know and understand the quality of the hay that you are feeding. A forage analysis is needed to accurately determine the nutritional value of hay and if additional supplementation is needed outside of this feedstuff in your herd. Estimate the number of hay feeding days per year, and the quantity of hay needed to carry your herd through the winter.

3) Match.

Matching the quality of hay with animal nutrient requirements is the first step in developing a supplementation plan. This starts with comparing the nutrient requirements of your animals (Table 1; green columns) to the amount of nutrients provided by the forage. If the quality of hay is less than the daily nutritional requirement of the animal, additional supplementation will be needed.

4) Evaluate and compare supplemental nutrient sources.

If supplemental feed is needed, evaluate the feed on a cost per pound of nutrient basis, not solely cost per ton of feed. For example, if additional energy (TDN) is needed, compare feed sources on a cost per pound of TDN basis. Use a decision tool like the cost calculator in the UGA Basic Balancer or the Alabama Beef Systems Byproduct Feed Quick Reference Guide for comparing the value of feedstuffs.

5) Provide supplemental energy to cattle during severe, cold weather events.

In cold, wet weather often found in the winter in the Southeast, the energy requirements of beef cattle increase 2% for each degree that the wind chill is below 59°F. Provide a small amount of digestible energy supplement (ex. soybean hulls at 0.3 to 0.5% of animal body weight per day) along with free choice hay during and after (3 to 5 days) the cold event to decrease energy losses during this time period.