A wet spring and growing season left limited inventories of average and high-quality hay in many areas.

Kevin Gould, a Michigan State University extension beef educator, notes that during the winter of 2018 to 2019, some cattle producers began purchasing hay from new sources. When this hay was fed, cows lost significant body condition.

Feed samples showed the new sources of hay had protein, energy, and digestibility values well below nutritional requirements. It’s time to learn from past mistakes. The feed value of hay should not be a mystery.

Gould notes that these types of situations underscore the importance of feed sampling and how it provides a better understanding for proper supplementation. “Feed sampling should be considered whenever feed values for energy and protein are in question,” he explains. “This applies to your own forages or any purchased forages.”

Balancing rations is a critical step for producers, especially when nutritional requirements are not being met. Knowing the nutritional value of forages and feed makes it easier to identify needed supplements and create affordable balanced rations. The beef educator says to focus on protein and energy, but don’t forget to make mineral and vitamin adjustments as rations change.

In addition to helping balance rations, sampling helps both parties formulate an equitable price when purchasing feedstuffs.

If winter feed inventories are low, Gould suggests feedstuffs like crop residues, baleage, corn silage, high-moisture corn, and others should be considered. He also says that energy can easily be supplemented using corn. Dry distillers grains, if available, can serve as an affordable protein and energy option.

Michaela King

Michaela King served as the 2019 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She currently attends the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and is majoring in professional journalism and photography. King grew up on a beef farm in Big Bend, Wis., where her 4-H experiences included showing both beef and dairy cattle.