Robert Seay, Benton County extension agent, said, "Today's Bermuda grass hay has nothing on the results grandpa produced. Talk from the coffee houses to the show rings further broadens the region's reputation as a source of quality Bermuda grass that makes nutritious hay for winter when livestock owners demand it most. That nutritional value is the main point sellers emphasize when producers market their product to hobby horse owners, or where drought conditions boost demand. One hundred percent of the hay is edible and has a better balance of proteins and minerals than other varieties because it has more leaf than stem.
"This is the primary natural feed source for cattle: Their digestive systems have evolved to handle fibrous feeds. Feeding them grain is an anomaly, really," said Chuck West, a forage specialist and UA professor in the crop soil and environmental sciences division, "so we are trying to get back to maximizing forage."
As for utilizing Bermuda grass in this capacity, however, overcoming negative stigmas associated with Bermuda grass hay has been challenging, Seay said, because many believe that it is a low-quality hay. "I'm a bad critic myself," Seay said, "but we've 10 years of data to support that our average TDN, or total digestible nutrients, which is an energy value scale, in hay has been 66 percent. To compare, corn runs about 89 percent. Basically, Bermuda grass hay is 75 percent the value of corn just on the energy content."
Information like that garners a second look by hay producers and buyers alike who continue to question whether Bermuda grass hay can satisfy winter nutrient requirements. The answer is a strong yes, Seay said. "You can't afford to grow hay on today's input prices of fuel, fertilizer and other expenses tied to operating farm equipment," Seay said. "Part of the agriculture scene right now is people getting out of the business because they can't afford what they are doing."
Future efforts to improve and to demonstrate high-quality forage outcomes involves convincing cattle producers that all – large and small, full and part time – can utilize Bermuda grass in this way, and improve efficiency on the farm, West said.
Well-managed, high-producing high-quality Bermuda grass hay can be profitable even at today's high prices of nitrogen, West said. "There's not a lot of high tech practices involved," he noted.
The key to modern grassland farming is to have the soil tested at least every other year. Then, fertilize and apply lime according to those soil-test recommendations, West said. While spring weed control is important, preventers should be applied on an as-needed basis during the good growing conditions of spring and early summer but save those fertilizer dollars during dry periods, normally mid-July to mid-September.


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