There’s a lot of hay out there this year, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a lot of nutrition.
“A lot of it was put up with some mildew,” Tim Schnakenberg, University of Missouri Extension forage agronomist, told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “It was really hard to get it dried down, and a lot of it got rained on. The rain brought a lot of hay production, but it also brought a lot of humidity and wet weather that made it very challenging to get it harvested on time without having mold issues.”
So there’s plenty of tonnage, but the hay will likely have to be supplemented. Fortunately, the weather in southwest Missouri later in the year was conducive to getting stands of stockpiled fescue going. Schnakenberg said in this part of the country, “that’s the primary way to address feeding in the late fall and early winter time frame.”
Since the act of stockpiling temporarily takes acreage out of grazing access, there’s some cost to your operation. Schnakenberg said it’s sometimes best to keep those paddocks off limits to the cows in fall and start feeding hay early instead. But he said the short term cost is worth it; if you include 40 to 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre you’ll need for a good stand, stockpiled fescue runs about 44 cents per cow per day.
“If you were comparing that to a very modest cost of hay of 55 dollars a ton, factoring in a normal 10 percent feeding loss, I figure it costs from 80 cents to $1.30 per ton to feed hay,” Schnakenberg said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s good hay or bad hay. For less than half that amount, you can feed them a better quality feed through your stockpiled fescue, so it’s really the way to go.”
In addition to stockpiling, University of Arkansas professor of livestock nutrition Dr. Shane Gadberry said producers who don’t have a perennial cool season grass like fescue can reduce winter feeding costs by incorporating winter annuals into their grazing systems. “Planting combinations of ryegrass with wheat and rye can get us earlier spring grazing.
Gadberry told OFN, “and during that time the nutrition of a growing forage would be much greater than a typical hay we’re producing in the Ozarks, so we’ve got the benefit of having those cows on a better plane of nutrition during late winter and early spring. That would help not only reduce cost, but increase productivity in our cow herd.”
Gadberry agreed that, faced with the challenge of abundant but lesser quality hay this season, producers will have to look at providing supplemental feed in order to keep them in good body condition through the winter. “If we don’t understand the nutrient composition of our hay and have to spend a little bit of money on supplemental feed to make sure that our cows are in good body condition so they breed back quickly after calving, then we’ve got the cost of lost production,” he said.
Schnakenberg said producers can supplement with bagged or bulk feeds, and a better quality hay.
“Anything that’s of better quality than what we’re feeding can be used with our existing grass hay supply to help supplement,” he said.
Once the gates to the pasture being stockpiled are closed, Schnakenberg recommended they stay closed until about the Thanksgiving time frame. “The best way to feed stockpiled fescue is with a polywire, tread-in posts and a reel; that’s an outstanding way of rationing that grass back to the cows,” he said. “We need to give a little at a time; that’s the most efficient way to feed stockpiled fescue.”


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