2017-11-01 / Milestones



Hopefully, once you read that title, you said to yourself, “Yes, I have my hay for the winter.” Whether you have hay for the upcoming winter or not, below are some things to think about when making that purchase.

Hay Maturity – Many folks think that the first cutting is the best and most nutritious hay. That may or may not be the case. The maturity of the hay at the time it is cut is the biggest factor that affects hay quality. If the hay is more mature and in the reproductive stage (seedheads or blooms present), the quality will decrease. Hay that is in the vegetative state is generally more nutritious. A lot of times, first cutting hay will have seedheads and lots of stem, thus reducing protein, energy and digestibility levels.

Hay Species – Depending on the class of livestock you are feeding, you will need varying degrees of nutrition levels. Horses that are trail ridden only occasionally (or never) are not going to have as a high a plane of nutritional requirements as a racehorse in training. Likewise, a brood cow with a two month old calf by her side needs more protein and energy than a cow 5-6 months pregnant. Again, who you are feeding will dictate the type of hay you might need. Grasses and legumes have differing nutritional values. Additionally, within those groups, forage species can have varying levels of protein and energy.

Rain – Rain is not good for hay once it has been mowed. If rained on within a few hours of being mowed, the hay will not be as negatively affected as when it is rained on when dry enough to bale. Digestibility and dry matter yield both decrease with rainfall events. If the hay is allowed to dry adequately before baling, it can still be fed to some classes of livestock. However, supplementation will most likely be needed to make up the difference in nutritional needs versus nutrition supplied. All this depends on both the hay and the livestock.

Storage – Storing hay inside (barn/shed) is best. This protects it from rain (and snow) and sun. However, having adequate storage can be difficult when dealing with large round bales. Many times, those large round bales are stored uncovered outside. This will reduce the quality and dry matter. In this case, you will most likely need more hay and will also need supplementation. If those round bales are stored up off the ground and covered with a tarp, quality and dry matter loss will be minimal.

Weight – The only way to know for sure how much a bale of hay weighs is to weigh it. This isn’t that hard to do with small square bales, but can be challenging for large round bales. However, a livestock scale will work if one is available. Small squares can vary in weight by as much as 30-40 pounds, depending on hay species and baling specifics. Large round bales can vary by as much as 1000 pounds since there are different sizes available. Since hay in this part of the world is bought and sold on a per bale basis (as opposed to per ton), it is important to know how much hay (by weight) you’re really getting.

Amount – Without knowing the weight of the hay, it is virtually impossible to even estimate how much hay you’ll need to feed your livestock through the winter. As a (very broad) average, an animal will eat approximately two percent of its body weight in dry matter every day. Notice that was dry matter – not just hay. Hay is typically 85 percent dry matter or higher. This dry matter recommendation is a basic way of estimating “how much” the animal will eat. It does not take into consideration any specific protein and energy requirements based on nutritional needs for the animal or group of animals. If you feed any supplemental feeds or the animals are grazing, that dry matter intake goes into the equation as well. If you’re feeding a wet feed (silage or baleage), the amount needed to be consumed would increase since those feeds are much wetter – usually 35-65 percent dry matter.

So, let’s do some quick math. Say you have 20 brood cows that weight 1,200 pounds each. Your hay weighs 800 pounds and tested at 88 percent dry matter. How much hay will you need? Well, you also kinda need to know (or guess) how long you’ll feed them through the winter. We’ll say that you expect to feed hay for three months (90 days).

1200 lbs X 2% dry matter intake = 24 pounds of dry mater (DM) per day per cow

24 pounds DM per day/ per cow ÷ 88 percent dry matter = 27.27 pounds of hay as fed per cow per day

28 lbs hay X 20 cows = 560 pounds of hay per day for the herd

560 pounds per day X 90 days = 50,400 pounds of hay for the herd for the winter

50,400 lbs hay needed ÷ 800 lbs per bale = 63 bales of hay

So, in this example, we have determined that you would need 63 bales to feed 20 1,200 pound cows for 90 days. There are lots of other variables that come into play, like feeding loss and weather. But, this would at least give you a start on how much hay you need. These numbers do not take into consideration the protein and energy levels that may be needed for animals that require more of these nutrients. This just looks at dry matter. You could be feeding enough dry matter, but if the hay is poor quality, the animals could be starving with full bellies.

Hay Testing – The NC Department of Agriculture will perform a nutritional analysis on your hay for $10. That’s a pretty cheap investment to find out exactly what you are feeding. Approximately one gallon of dry hay is all that is needed. Forms are available at your Extension office or online, and your local Extension office may be able to get the sample to the lab for you. You’ll have results in about 2-3 weeks.

If you have questions about any of this, call the N. C. Cooperative Extension Person County Center at 336-599-1195.


November 1-2 - Working Arts

November 3 - Ag Field Day

November 6 - Beef Bull Breeding Soundness Clinic

November 7 - ECA County Council

November 14 - 4-H Wreath Fundraiser Order Deadline

November 16 - Lunch N’ Learn

November 16 - Beekeepers Meeting

December 1 and 2 - 4-H Wreath fundraiser Pick-up

December 7 - ECA Achievement Day

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