Securing proper quality and quantity now for the winter months ahead

For many people, summer days are all about fun in the sun. But for farmers, hot summer days are a time to prepare for the coming of winter. As farmers stack, store and survey their hay supply, some producers may be assessing if they have enough hay for their livestock. Now is the time for farmers to analyze their hay supply and take action if needed.

Before determining how much hay is needed for a herd, experts recommend producers evaluate their animals. Farmers should take a look at each animal and decide whether or not it needs to be culled. “If a cow isn’t making milk or making a baby, she has no business being on the place,” Eric Bailey, Ph.D., state beef extension specialist with the University of Missouri, said. “Any unproductive workers on the farm need to be culled.”

Once producers determine their herd size going into winter, they can plan how much hay they will need. A good start in the process is to think about the answers to a few questions. “Now is a great time to be doing the planning,” Bailey stated. “Ask yourself. How many days did I feed hay last winter? How many days do I think I will feed hay this winter? How many months of hay do I need to have on hand?” Bailey suggested.

Next, livestock producers need to know the size of their round bales and how that relates to how many pounds of feed they are putting up. For example, a hay bale that is four feet by five feet may only be 800 pounds of feed, but a bale that is 5-feet-by-6-feet may be 1,200 pounds, depending on how tightly it is wrapped. 

“If a cow isn’t making milk or making a baby, she has no business being on the place. Any unproductive workers on the farm need to be culled.”

— Eric Bailey, Ph.D.,
state beef extension specialist, university of missouri

The size of the bale matters, as does its density. The tighter the bale is wrapped, the more animals it will feed. Judging the density of a bale can be accomplished with a simple test. “If you can push the side of the bale in with your hand, that’s a pretty loose bale,” Bailey explained. “If the bale doesn’t change shape unless you put the weight of a tractor under it, that’s a pretty tight bale.”

Experts suggest a rule of thumb to follow is each cow will require the equivalent of a thousand-pound bale per month. “That cow is probably going to eat about 800 pounds of that bale and she is probably going to waste the other 200 pounds,” Bailey stated. “That waste is probably estimated on the high side, but I would like to give those cows the opportunity to have a little extra feed.”

This year, due to the weather conditions and market factors, the price of hay has held steady. If producers determine they need more hay, then now is an excellent time to buy. “The hay market is pretty soft right now relative to other feed prices, so this may be a time, especially with the recent rains, to go out on the market and buy a little more hay,” Bailey said. 

While producers evaluate their hay supply and requirements for the upcoming year, experts advise farmers to look for ways to reduce the number of days they need to feed hay. “What I would like to communicate far and wide before I’m done as an Extension specialist is that I think a lot of Missouri farms could be very profitable if they were feeding hay for 30 to 45 days a year tops,” Bailey said. 

Producers may want to consider the following factors when determining how to reduce the number of bales they feed each year; reevaluating their forage management, pasture fertilization and stocking rates. Small changes in these areas can make a big difference in the long run and decrease the number of days the cattle herd needs hay.


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