Be strategic in feeding hay this winter

Prorate your hay based on both the nutrient content of bales and health status of gestating cows using these tips.

Amanda Radke

November 13, 2019

4 Min Read

This week, I traveled to Idaho to speak at the Idaho Cattlemen’s Association Winter Meeting. It was my first trip to Sun Valley, and the ski resort town was anxiously awaiting the arrival of snow which will attract the many visitors they host during the winter months.

Meanwhile, back at home, cold and snow have arrived, and I don’t think anybody is emotionally ready for what’s to come.

If you live in the Midwest, then you know quite well what I’m talking about — 2018 and 2019 have been beasts for weather. This past winter was particularly brutal with extremely cold temperatures and blizzards that continued to hit well into late April.

And just as the snow subsided, rain and flooding ensued, followed by a cold, wet summer and an equally cool and wet fall.
Needless to say, Mother Nature didn’t provide many opportunities to plant crops, put up hay, harvest crops or have good grass for grazing during the summer months. What pasture was above water was washy and lacked nutrients. The hay we did get put up was rained on and will suffer from quality as a result.

All around, 2019 was just not a fun year to operate at odds with Mother Nature, and I know I’m not the only one to say — 2020, you better have something better in store for us!

Now that I have my moaning and whining out of the way, the point of me recapping these weather events is to highlight that for so many, hay and forage resources may be limited this year and what is available may not be the highest quality or may be lacking in key nutrients our gestating cows need as they enter the second and third trimesters of their pregnancies.

Related:A better way to make hay?

Here’s your gentle reminder that testing your hay is a good idea, now more than ever. Continue to stockpile what you can because, whether we like it or not, snow and cold is coming and soon!

So now that you’ve got your hay supply built up, you may be wondering, what’s the best way to prorate this hay to provide the best nutrition to my cattle at the critical times they need it most?

Travis Mulliniks, University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL) beef cattle nutritionist, and Rob Ziegler, UNL MS animal science student, offer some tips to improve cow performance while consuming low-quality forages.

They write, “In most cases, cows consuming low-quality forages require additional protein. Protein supplements typically have a crude protein content greater than 20% and come in various forms including cubes, meals, pellets, and blocks. Supplementing with a high-quality protein source will increase forage intake and digestibility of the low-quality forage.

Related:Black clouds, black hay: What has the weather wrought?

"Protein supplements can be offered to cows daily, three days a week, or as infrequently as once per week with adequate performance. As a rule of thumb, feeding 0.3 to 0.6 pounds of crude protein per day during late gestation to mature cows maintains cow performance and fetal growth."

In addition, they explain, "If cows are thin after weaning or we have a wet, cold winter, a different supplementation strategy may be needed. This fall will be the best opportunity to improve body condition as their requirements will increase as calving approaches making it more difficult to increase body condition. Cows that need to gain weight, or young cows that are still growing may require energy and protein.

"Byproducts such as distillers grains are fiber-based supplements that are high in crude protein and have high levels of energy. Supplements like cottonseed meal and alfalfa hay may not provide enough energy to increase body condition before calving. Starch-based energy supplements like corn will have to be fed every day and can cause a decrease in forage intake."

To read the entire article, click here.

Be sure to check out UNL’s “Feed Cost Cow-Q-Lator,” which was created by UNL Extension and is a spreadsheet that aids in comparing both nutritional status of feedstuffs and costs of each option.

Don’t let a tough weather year throw off your upcoming calving season. Be diligent to get ahead of problems by testing feedstuffs, prorating high-quality forages at critical times and supplementing as needed.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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