Make adequate hay for your livestock

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By Steve Moore
Henry County Extension Office

The wet spring this year resulted in several acres of hay that were cut and baled late. This can be problematic since much of our hay is derived from fescue and fescue-legume mix stands. The later the hay harvest, the more the plants advance in maturity from a vegetative stage, causing the percentage of the good stuff, energy and protein, to decrease.

The ideal time to harvest cool-season grass for hay from a yield and quality perspective is from boot stage to early flowering. The quality of hay at later stages of maturity can pose problems for our beef cattle, especially those with high nutritional needs such as lactating cows and growing calves.

Dr. Jeff Lehkuhler, UK Beef Specialist, recently looked at about 60 forage analyses from hay sampled in 2013. When he compared the energy and protein in each analysis with the requirements for a cow in late gestation, he found almost none met her requirements. Some were deficient in both protein and energy, but the vast majority were below the energy requirement.

Thus, in many instances, energy is first limiting during this phase of production while protein will likely be limiting along with energy as the cows start their lactations.

Late cut hay is lower in protein and energy percentage, and is also less digestible leading to less energy available to the animal. Lower digestibility of this hay actually lowers forage intake. When the feed doesn’t supply all the energy needed, livestock will start to ‘take’ from their own body tissues. The loss of body condition can negatively impact reproduction costing the operation in the long term.

To ensure the livestock are receiving an adequately balanced diet, producers should sample their hay and have it analyzed for nutrient content. This information is then used to develop a strategic supplementation strategy for cattle. Forage analysis allows farmers to more efficiently match hay quality to the nutrient needs of the cows. When supplementation is needed, it pays off both in the present and in the future.

The Kentucky Dairy Development Council is seeking to fill the dairy consultant position in the north central and northeastern area of Kentucky. This part time position will be working with more than 100 dairies.

Information concerning this position is available at the Henry County Extension Office until Dec. 24.