No Rain in Fall Causes Hay Shortage in Spring

— Written By Glenn Detweiler and last updated by Judy Moore
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Livestock producers are running low in hay and grass. From mid-August to mid-October, 2019, most of Lincoln County had no rain. After summer dormancy, our fescue pastures normally grow quickly, starting in September and continuing until temperatures are at or below freezing. That did not happen this year. To reduce hay usage and assist farmers until regrowth in mid-spring, producers can take a number of simple actions.

One of the first management tools that should be used is the selling of poorer producing cows. Once poor producing cows are removed, there are several options to meet nutritional demands of the remaining cows. These include moving livestock to alternate grazing locations, obtaining hay, avoiding waste, feeding only a complete diet, “limit feeding,” and rotational grazing.

When obtaining hay, one needs to sample and test that hay for Crude Protein and TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients). For cows in late gestation or early lactation, 27 pounds per day of hay (that is at least 59% total digestible nutrients (TDN) and 9% protein is needed) to meet the demands of an average milk-producing 1,200-pound cow.

When feeding hay one can reduce hay losses by following a number of general rules.
1. Feed hay in small amounts or in feeders to minimize waste. Large round bales are designed to minimize labor, not waste. Feed small hay bales or put round bales in hay rings. This can reduce  waste from 45%, in the absence of a ring, to 5%, in the most efficient hay ring.
2. Feed hay in well-drained areas. Feed on concrete or regularly rotate the feeding area to minimize damage to the pasture.
3. Use several hay rings. The average hay ring feeds 10 cows. However, researchers suggest using a number of hay rings since aggressive cows will eat first and consume the more desirable hay. Buy enough hay rings to feed animals for 3 to 4 days, allowing each cow access to good hay.
4. Use a minimum of 30 inches of linear bunk space per cow. (Cows without horns).
5. Feed unprotected hay before using hay protected from the weather.
6. When “limit feeding,” hay must be limited to just enough to keep the animal’s digestive system healthy while providing a higher level of concentrate to meet the animal’s requirements.
7. Feed an ionophore (Rumensin or Bovatec) which improves forage digestibility, decreasing hay use.
8. Plant Spring Oats as soon as temperatures do not fall into the low 20’s. The general recommended date to plant is February 15. Oats should be ready to graze in 45 days (April 1).
9. To assist grazing longer into the summer, broadcast 3 pounds of white clover or 7 pounds of red clover now in pastures and hay fields.

If you need detailed information, contact Glenn Detweiler –   CES Livestock agent for Lincoln & Catawba counties at (704)-736-8461 & (828)465-8240 or (405)219-1902.