Second and later hay cuttings in Indiana are likely to be higher in nutritional value than the delayed first-crop that contended with a cool, wet spring. That should give cattle producers an option, in addition to supplemental feeds, to offset that poorer-quality first crop, says Ron Lemenager, beef specialist with Purdue Extension.

“First cutting is going to be lower in energy, protein and digestibility than normal,” he says. “That means that when that’s fed to a given class of cattle, performance won’t be as good as you would typically expect out of first cutting.”

Although second cutting started late, adequate moisture and sunny days during the crop’s growing period should produce forages high in nutrients – when harvested at the correct stage of maturity.

“Second, third, maybe fourth cutting for some producers will be of higher quality, so we might be able to mix and match how we feed low-quality and higher-quality forages to meet the requirements of different stages of production in our cow herds.”

High-quality forages should be fed to animals with the highest nutrient requirements, such as replacement heifers, developing bulls and lactating cows, he reminds. Cows that have just weaned calves and are in mid-pregnancy have the lowest nutrient requirements and can be fed lower-quality first-cutting forages.

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It all comes down to having the right feeding strategy, Lemenager says. “It may not be that every animal gets the high-quality forage every day, but the data suggests that if I meet protein requirements by feeding high protein one day, I might be able to skip a day or two and incorporate more lower-quality forages, and then come back with a higher quality on about the third day again. We can probably still maintain good microbial fermentation in the rumen by providing enough energy and protein to make the rumen efficient.”

In many cases, nutritional supplements will be needed. These can include soybean hulls for energy or corn gluten or distillers grains for energy and protein.

Lemenager’s bottom line: “If it looks like you’re going to have to buy supplements, my recommendation would be to consider watching the market on these supplements and locking in the price earlier than normal instead of waiting until winter or fall.”

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