Livestock producers need to diligently manage livestock nutrition needs this fall and winter because of the low-quality forage available, says Ohio State University Extension specialist Rory Lewandowski.

“We have pretty good forage quantity, but what is going to hurt us is the quality,” says Lewandowski, an educator with the university’s Extension Beef Team. “Most of southeastern Ohio is going to be in that situation because we had decent amounts of hay in terms of tonnage, but the quality, especially of that first cutting, is going to present a problem.”

He says some producers reported making more hay than in recent memory, but most were late getting into fields because of the wet spring across most of Ohio.

For producers concerned their first cutting isn’t of as high a quality as normal or necessary, the Beef Team offers several recommendations:

First, know exactly what you’re dealing with in terms of the hay’s nutritive value. Taking forage samples and sending them off to a reputable testing lab is a must.

“You really need to have an idea of what that quality is to make determinations about when to use it, and what type of supplementation, if any, is necessary,” says Lewandowski. “You can’t do that simply by guessing.”

Next, he recommends feeding the poorest-quality hay first and saving higher-quality, second- and third-cutting hay for later, particularly when cows are in the last third of the gestation cycle.

Earlier in the fall, he encouraged producers to feed poorer-quality hay and let grass pastures recover and stockpile. That stockpiled forage was typically much higher in quality. If producers didn’t stockpile pastures, the recommendation to feed low-quality hay first still makes sense.

“Feed that poorer-quality hay now and through the early- to mid-gestation phase in cattle,” he explains. “That early hay will not be adequate nutrition for late-gestation needs of the cow. You don’t want to depend on that hay in the late winter and early next spring.”

Another recommendation producers could consider is grinding poor-quality forages to increase their digestibility and intake. The disadvantage of this recommendation is that a tub grinder is required, a potentially costly piece of equipment. Lewandowski suggests that several neighbors might consider buying one together.

Finally, he says pasture management is still critically important heading into late November.

“We’re still probably not at that point where grass growth has really quit yet, so we caution producers not to overgraze at this point in the year,” he says. “Once we get a few hard frosts, then we can start grazing a little more heavily over the winter and not be concerned with leaf residual area.”

For those using stockpiled forages, or farmers who planted winter wheat or oats for grazing, he also suggests strip grazing to get better utilization, and to consider more intensive rotations to limit animals’ potential for overgrazing.