Southern dairy and beef cattle producers with low- to medium-quality round bales of hay can increase its palatability and possibly its nutritive value with a relatively new nutrition-supplement injection system. So says Mike McCormick, coordinator of Louisiana State University (LSU) Ag Center's Southeast Research Station in Franklinton.

“It's a molasses-urea injection system to increase palatability of hay products, particularly round hay bales,” says McCormick, who saw the HayMaster Nutrition Injection System demonstrated during an LSU Forage and Hay Day last year.

“We didn't do any actual research with it; we injected one bale and didn't inject another one and turned heifers on to them. They consumed the treated product a lot better,” he says.

In his part of the world, McCormick says, annual ryegrass is the main winter pasture. “But cow numbers have outstripped the number of acres for high-quality grazing, so producers limit-graze. They might graze in the mornings and in the evenings have access to hay or wrapped bale silage.”

Smaller dairies that can't afford to plant enough good ryegrass may find the injection system useful, he says. “Under those circumstances, I can see where it would have some advantages.” McCormick estimates that about six systems were bought after the field demonstration, half by dairymen and half by beef producers.

HayMaster uses probes to inject liquid feed supplements consisting of protein, minerals, energy and vitamins into hay bales. Hand-held, three-point and front-end loader injection systems are available. The hand-held probe is injected in the center and at 2, 4, 8 and 10 o'clock positions on a round bale, taking just a couple of minutes to complete. Besides offering beef and dairy formulas, the company hopes to soon provide a horse hay supplement.

According to HayMaster's promotion literature, it's best to inject and feed a bale immediately. But treated bales can be stored for up to 30 days.

“We're trying to entice the cows to eat,” says Scott Chapman, a dealer in Sandersville, GA. About 60-70% of the supplement spreads through the bale upon injection, but enough of the hay is sweetened to encourage cows to eat the rest.

“Our system,” adds Chapman, “gives cattle producers the opportunity to reduce their feed costs by allowing them to feed old hay, poor-quality hay and non-traditional forages such as cornstalks and wheat straw. It is much safer, less expensive, less time consuming and less labor intensive than ammoniating hay.”

The cost per bale is between $5 and $6, Chapman says.

“It doesn't take a lot of performance from beef or dairy to recoup that when you spread it over a lot of animals,” McCormick adds.

“Down here in the South, it's hard to make a cow, whether it's beef or dairy, consume hay the way the weather has been the last couple of months. It's hot and they just don't want to consume a lot of long-stem forage. So by encouraging them to do that, by it being more palatable, that definitely has an advantage.”

Besides palatability, the supplements may stimulate rumen fermentation, McCormick says. “There have been research projects that show that, by having some molasses and urea in the rumen, it can stimulate fiber digestion. But I haven't had the wherewithal to evaluate it from a nutritional standpoint. I know the urea concentration is quite low in the molasses-urea mixture, so I don't know if that really is enough to stimulate microbial protein on diets with marginal protein levels.

“But as far as the mechanics of it and its improving the palatability, I'm pretty much sold. I think it definitely is an advantage.”

For more on HayMaster Nutrition Injection Systems, Inc., call 478-521-0856.