Hay Quality

This has been a very poor year for making hay. In most areas dry conditions have cut hay production in half on the best managed dryland fields. On top of that due to the continued dry conditions many have already started feeding hay and it is still August. Most of us try to keep enough hay to feed through the winter, but not starting in August. We have predictions of a warm dry winter, so you need to be cautious if planning to get your winter feed from grazing. There is some hay available on the market, but prices are going up weekly. It is important to know what you are paying for and what you will have to feed.

One of the more important tasks you can perform to help in your winter-feeding plans is to get your hay sampled. Now is the time to pull analysis on your forages so you will know just how much, if any, supplement you will need this winter. A forage analysis can help you increase profits by preventing over or under feeding of your livestock this winter. Our typical grass hay can range from 4 to 20% crude protein; if you are feeding the same supplement regardless of hay quality you can easily be feeding more than is required. As a result you will be throwing away money on unnecessary feed. If you are not providing enough supplement for a lower quality hay, your livestock’s body condition scores will fall resulting in poor reproduction and animal health. This will potentially lead to fewer calves to sell, which lowers profits.

The following table shows crude protein and TDN requirements for different age beef cattle at different stages of lactation.

Animal Category TDN % CP%

Dry to mid-pregnancy 48 7

Mature lactating cow (10 lbs Milk) 56 9

2 Yr. old lactating cow 63 11

This is a very simple example using only crude protein and TDN, but it gives you an indication of just where your forage quality ranks and what class of cattle it might fit best.

In testing your forages, you will get your best results when you sample each cutting of hay. Using a hay probe, you will want to take your sample midway up the side of the roll. Remove about ½” of the outer layer and then drill or core your sample approximately 15” into the center of the roll. Samples should be taken from several rolls or bales and mixed to make a single sample.

There are several laboratories that can provide a chemical analysis of your hay.

We have all the forms and sample bags needed to utilize the Texas A&M lab, available at the county extension office.

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