Do You Have Enough Hay?

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Winter is approaching and it’s time for cattlemen to take stock of their hay and feedstuff supplies. Unfortunately, we are experiencing dry conditions and our pastures are not able to offer a lot of fall growth that we might normally get. Therefore, most producers will need to begin feeding hay earlier than normal. This will most likely put a strain on your hay inventory.

Now is the time to assess how much hay you have on hand going into the winter. If you are cutting it close on inventory, consider buying hay now while it is available. Hay will likely be cheaper and more readily available now, than in February when they hay sheds are almost empty. Here is a link to an excel spreadsheet that can help you calculate your hay needs in relation to your herd numbers.

If you are looking to purchase hay here are a couple options. Check out the Hay Alert website where you can search for hay available or submit an ad for “hay wanted”. Another popular place to look is social media on Facebook Marketplace. When writing this article, there were well over 30 listings for round bales of hay for sale within 20 miles of Taylorsville.

I know its hard to make the decision to spend the money early on, not being sure you will even need the extra hay. But spending the money now might save you from selling animals later on at a less than ideal time or hurting your herd productivity due to nutritional challenges.

Winter is the most costly time of year for cattlemen. Stored feeds are expensive because it takes time and energy to harvest and store feed. Grazing (if an option) is less expensive because animals harvest their own feed. To fine tune your feeding program consider these points:

  1. Take a hay sample to learn the energy, protein, and mineral content. Not all hay is the same quality, for $10, you can discover the quality of your hay. Growing animals and lactating moms require the best groceries. A hay sample also helps you match your purchased feeds to your hay on hand. Your local agent can help you sample and interpret the test results.
  2. When pastures are shorter than 4 inches, provide supplemental hay. When grass is shorter than 4 inches, animals just can’t take enough bites of short grass to fill their belly. When providing hay be sure to supply enough hay so the boss animals don’t keep the timid animals away. Provide enough hay for two or three days. This allows all the animals to get their share.
  3. Record body condition scores on the herd. Keeping up with body condition is a very easy and effective way to monitor how well your feeding program is working. If animals are losing condition, then your feeding program needs immediate evaluation.
  4. Grouping animals allows for them to be managed for their needs. Group heifers, thin cows, and old cows together. Separate lactating cows from dry cows. Grouping keeps animals from being over fed and others under fed. Re-group cattle during the winter as needed if body condition changes.
  5. Cull chronically thin cattle, old cows, and cattle with dental or health problems. Cull open animals.
  6. Adjust rations as spring calving season approaches. Provide more energy and protein to meet their increasing needs.
  7. Provide minerals at all times. Minerals are essential for optimum animal performance. Check the minerals in feed supplements and supply free choice minerals in needed.
  8. Provide adequate shelter from wet or cold weather. This does not have to be man made shelter. Natural shelter, like a wooded area, is adequate shelter for animals with a good winter coat. Animals with a muddy coat are less able to tolerate cold temperatures. Keep mud to a minimum around waters and feeding stations.

Take the time to develop a sound winter feeding plan that will meet both the needs of the animals as well as be cost effective. Working with a nutrition professional or your local Extension Agent will put money in your pocket. And once you have a winter plan, remember #3, body condition score your animals and make changes if needed.

This article was adapted from “A Ten-point Plan for Winter Feeding Beef Cows” by NC State Beef Specialist Dr. Matt Poore.