This year’s weather has been far from cooperative. Many fields are flooded, and even if the rain stops, meadows and fields will see severe damage from the standing water. Overall, these fields will produce less due to the wet conditions. Additionally, the quality of the forage will continue to drop as cutting is delayed longer while fields dry up.
With reduced forage production, it’s time to plan strategies to deal with a shortage of hay this winter. In a recent article in the UNL BeefWatch Newsletter, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Aaron Berger and Tony Walz offer these 10 strategies to deal with short hay inventories.
Reduce forage demand for the upcoming fall and winter. It is hard to believe that hay may be short in an abundant precipitation year, but for many cow-calf producers, this may be the case. Consider weaning calves as well as pregnancy-testing yearling heifers and cows early as a method to reduce forage demand. Early shipping of calves off the ranch as well as culling nonpregnant heifers and cows can help to significantly reduce forage demands. Visit with your tax accountant about deferral of income from livestock sales if you normally would market these cattle after the first of the year but due to weather conditions are being forced to sell in 2019.
Plant annual forages to provide additional feed. Summer annuals can be planted until late July and still be very productive when adequate soil moisture and fertility are present. After late July, spring annual forages such as oats, spring triticale, and barley as well as brassicas are a better option for forage production since they will continue to grow into the fall if temperatures are above the mid-20s. Planting annual forages into wheat stubble may also be a good option this year to produce additional forage.
Find and secure other forage resources. Evaluate whether it may be best to bring the feed to the cattle or the cattle to the feed. Cornstalks for grazing, cover crops, and annual forages can be used to replace hay. Ammoniating wheat straw or cornstalks can significantly improve the quality of both of these residues. Use caution when bringing hay onto the ranch from outside sources since they may contain weed seed.
Compare feed options and contract protein and energy supplements early to lock in supplies. It is likely that protein and energy-dense feeds such as distillers grains will be in demand to be used with low-quality forage. Consider purchasing these feeds early to guarantee supplies. Utilize tools such as the Feed Cost Cow-Q-Lator to effectively compare feed options to one another. Include all costs, such as hauling, storage, waste, and feeding expense to fairly compare feeds to one another.
Utilize perennial hay fields and meadows during the fall and winter that were too wet for grazing this summer. Once the ground is firm or frozen enough for cattle to get out, consider grazing these wet areas through the fall and winter. The use of an electric fence for strip grazing and windrow grazing can help improve harvest efficiency and minimize waste. Areas that are too wet to harvest this summer may be able to be grazed later this year.
Minimize waste during storing and feeding. With uncovered storage, store your hay using methods that will minimize nutrient and dry matter losses from weathering. Make a dense bale since they will sag less and have less surface area in contact with the ground. Store hay on an elevated, well-drained site so it will not soak up moisture from wet soils or standing water. Store bales end-to-end with the line oriented north to south to allow prevailing winds to blow snow past the bales. If more than one line of bales is needed, space adjacent lines at least 3 feet apart to enhance airflow and allow sunlight to penetrate the bales. When feeding, research has shown that certain types of bale feeders along with limiting time cattle have access to hay feeders can reduce waste. For cattle being fed in a drylot, the use of these tools can be helpful to efficiently utilize hay.
Consider the use of an ionophore to stretch feed resources. When cattle are being fed supplements daily, consider the use of the ionophore monensin for cows to stretch feed resources. Research has shown that when cows are fed an ionophore the amount of hay needed can be reduced by 7 to 10 percent.
Consider limit feeding cows. Limit feeding is when cows are fed a diet containing ingredients that are energy and protein dense that meet the cow’s nutrient requirements, but the cow is restricted in how much she eats. Energy and protein-dense feeds can be fed with low-quality forage to stretch limited forage supplies.
Test your hay and forage. Knowing the nutrient content of your hay and forage will help with ration formulation to ensure you are meeting your cattle’s nutrient requirements. Having an accurate analysis is important in developing a cost-effective feeding strategy.
Partner with farmers who have planted cover crops on prevent plant acres. In some areas that were too wet to plant this spring, farmers have planted or will be planting cover crops on acres that they were not able plant to corn or soybeans. These crops can be grazed after September 1.
Michaela King is serving 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.