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Arrival of fall means hay assessment

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By Steve Moore

The arrival of fall is an important time for livestock producers to assess their winter hay supplies.  Determining both the amount and the quality will help insure you have enough to get your animals through the winter in good shape.  Here’s how to get a fairly accurate estimate of supply.

Estimate the number of days you’ll feed hay this winter. In a normal year, Kentucky producers average 120 days (from Dec. 1 until March 31) of feeding hay. This will vary depending upon your situation. Some producers in Western Kentucky never really stopped feeding hay this year, due to the drought, and believe it or not, each year we have folks who really plan out their forage year nearly get through without feeding any hay at all.

Determine the amount of feed your animals will consume each day. Cattle and horses consume an average of 2.5 percent of their body weight every day, so simply multiply 0.025 by the average animal’s weight times the number of animals you plan to feed.

Multiply the products of No. 1 and No. 2 together. This will give you a good idea of the approximate pounds of hay you’ll need for the winter.

Take three or four hay bales to a facility with a scale, such as the local feed store. Take the bale’s average weight and multiply that by the number of bales you have. Compare this number to the amount you need.

You also need to allow for storage and feeding losses, and adjust your hay supplies to cover these losses. If you store your hay outside, your losses may be more than 50 percent. A 50 percent loss would mean that you need to double the amount of hay you calculated is needed to feed your animals.

Before feeding hay, you should have it tested for nutrient content. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Forage Testing Program can help you determine if your animals are truly getting the nutrition they need or if you need to supplement the ration to maintain your animals’ body condition. You can reach the KDA at 1-800-248-4628.

September rains

Stockpiling should pay off well this year.  It always seems a bit of a gamble to put some nitrogen on pastures in August when it is hot and dry in order to boost fall production, but the September rains have made it worthwhile this year.  While all of our cool season grass based pastures and hay fields have greened up, those with nitrogen have the extra boost.  This should ease the hay supply somewhat, as stockpiled pastures can give livestock feed supplies well into the winter. 

How much rain?  We now have seven dedicated and consistent rainfall observers around the county, and rainfall ranged from a low of 4.16 inches near Smithfield to a high of 5.83 inches on Kentucky 22 just northeast of Pleasureville.  The rains have not only benefited pasture and hay, some late soybeans improved, and tobacco curing is reported to be developing a good color.