According to Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-forecasting groundhog linked to our spring weather fate, there will be six more weeks of winter. This comes as unwelcome news to many producers whose hay supply has dropped rapidly this winter feeding season. University of Missouri beef nutritionist Eric Bailey suggests a “feed less, need less” fix with just strategy adjustments and math.

“The ‘need less’ part means selling cows; that makes fewer mouths to feed,” Bailey says. “Selling some cows may be beneficial as it puts stocking rate in sync with carrying capacity of the farm.”

Bailey suggests culling cattle with bad attitudes or low production to help reduce the need for feed. Pregnancy checks are also beneficial in determining a cow’s worth in the herd. Not only are open cows failing to earn their keep, subfertile cattle should not be tolerated as they often fail to conceive when rebred, Bailey adds.

A nutritionist by trade, in his extension presentations, Bailey forgoes talk of vitamins and minerals to share tips that cut costs. After all, profits are the point of feeding cows, reminds Bailey.

“In hay feeding, match amount fed to the body needs of the cow. Here’s where matchups become important. Is it an 800-pound bale or a 1,200-pound bale? General rule: Hay needed is 3 percent of body weight per day,” Bailey says.

Using simple math, Bailey provides an example using a 1,400-pound cow and a 1,000-pound round bale. If each cow needs 40 pounds of hay a day, that one bale is able to feed 22 cows. That said, hay testing is needed to ensure that cattle are getting the appropriate nutrients for their individual needs.

A midgestation cow needs a ration of 55 percent TDN (total digestible nutrients). A cow that calved and nurses a calf needs 65 percent TDN, Bailey notes. Midgestation cows need only 7 percent crude protein, while a lactating cow needs 11 percent.

With a fertile herd and accurate math, stretching feed comes down to hay wastage and supplemental feeds. Bailey recommends only rolling out one day’s worth of hay at a time and limiting access to three hours a day. Given three hours, a cow will waste 6 pounds of hay a day. However, given an entire day, it will waste up to 14 pounds.

Feeding less hay may mean offering supplemental feeds. By-product feeds from biofuel production are a relatively cheap and abundant resource for producers. A ration fed at 1 percent of body weight can be half grain such as corn and half by-product, Bailey adds.

Lauren Peterson

Lauren Peterson served as the 2017 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She is from Wyanet, Ill., and currently attends Kansas State University where she is pursuing a degree in agricultural communications and journalism. While at school, Lauren works at the KSU dairy farm and is an active member of the Horseman’s Association.