The Importance of Forage Analysis

Why analyze forages for their nutrient content? The obvious answer to this question is to use the results to balance rations for lactating cows as well as dry cows and heifers. The goal when balancing rations is to optimize cattle performance while keeping feed costs reasonable and using home-grown feeds available. As importantly as using the results to balance rations, these results should be used to evaluate whether the quality of forages harvested can be improved. These evaluations can be of forages harvested by others or those harvested as part of the home dairy farming operation. By using these results, one can determine if forages need to be harvested earlier/later, different varieties need to be used in the future, or changes in agronomic practices need to be instituted to prevent decreases in forage quality.

Key analyzes for evaluating forage quality?Energy is the hardest nutritional component to provide in diets for lactating and growing cattle.  Higher quality forages are more digestible and support greater dry matter intakes.  Thus, they allow greater quantities of forage to be included in the ration, lowering total feed cost and supporting cattle growth, greater early-lactation milk production, and improved reproductive performance compared to lower quality forages. ~ Dr. Donna Amaral-Phillips, excerpt of article KY Dairy Notes, available here.


Chewing some Cud on Mud

Many regions of the southern U.S. have experienced copious amounts of rain, which translates to mud in winter-feeding pastures. This creates problems for the cattle being fed and the owner, according to Kim Mullenix, extension beef specialist with Auburn University. “Excess mud can increase energy requirements because of the extra work to get to and from the feeding area. Mud also reduces the insulating value of the animal’s hair coat.” Dr. Mullenix cites some Univ. of NE research that showed 4 to 8 inches of mud can reduce feed intake by 10 to 15 percent.

Though mud is often just a tolerated fact of life on many farms, Dr. Mullenix says there are several strategies that can be implemented to limit losses in animal performance, reduce human stress, and minimize damage to pastures. Here’s her list:

  1. Head for higher ground. Identify areas in the pasture that are well drained and tend to dry out faster when feeding hay during the winter. Low-lying areas are more prone to water retention and will not dry out as quickly.
  2. When checking cattle, minimize heavy wheel traffic and ruts. Use smaller vehicles such as an ATV or check cattle on foot where possible.
  3. Consider bale grazing. Setting out round bales prior to feeding on firm ground, then fencing them off with electric wire and moving to new bales one-by-one as needed may be a way to reduce mud. Several trials have noted that this works especially well in stockpiled fields where cattle can both graze and eat hay.
  4. Construct a heavy-use feeding area. A heavy-use pad provides a feeding area for livestock that can reduce mud creation and erosion. Though concrete is the “Cadillac” construction base, a cheaper and effective material choice to reinforce frequent feeding areas is geotextile cloth and stone. Make sure the constructed area is large enough to be effective; a small pad may simply become surrounded by mud. While this option might not be available in the midst of the rain and mud, it’s something to consider for the future. ~ excerpt Hay and Forage Grower, Jan 2019, available here.


Insects in Livestock Feed and Hay

Insects show great promise as sustainable food sources for fish, poultry, and swine. Some species can efficiently convert food scraps and manure into nutritional supplements while significantly reducing volume and making it unsuitable as a breeding site for pests.

However, insects and mites in livestock feed are a different matter. Their activities can reduce nutritional quality, acceptability, and palatability of feed. In addition, some may serve as hosts for internal parasites. Early recognition of arthropod infestations in feed may prevent establishment of chronic infestations, further spread of the pests, and additional feed loss. Often, the best short-term recourse is to destroy infested feed and implement strong sanitation and prevention practices to prevent a recurrence. The full article looks at different species, including borers, mealworms, bran bugs, mites, and fungus beetles.  ~ full article available in KY Pest News, Dec. 2018.


Get NAFA’s 2019 Alfalfa Variety Ratings

The National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA) has released the 2019 edition of its popular “Alfalfa Variety Ratings – Winter Survival, Fall Dormancy & Pest Resistant Ratings for Alfalfa Varieties” – a useful tool for hay and dairy farmers, extension specialists, or anyone involved in the production of alfalfa.

NAFA’s Alfalfa Variety Ratings is a publication unlike any other in providing an extensive listing of alfalfa varieties and their corresponding ratings for fall dormancy, winter survival, bacterial wilt, aphanomyces, leafhopper, and a host of other issues. This publication is available in the November issue of Hay & Forage Grower magazine or by visiting NAFA’s website. ~ NAFA e-newsletter (11/30/2018).


Forage Timely Tips: January

  • Continue strip-grazing of stockpiled tall fescue for maximum utilization.
  • Remove animals from very wet pastures to limit pugging and soil compaction.
  • Feed best hay to animals with highest nutritional needs.
  • Supplement poor quality hay as indicated by forage testing.
  • Feed hay in poor pastures to increase soil fertility and enhance organic matter.
  • Consider “bale grazing” – set out hay when the ground is dry or frozen. Use temporary fencing to allocate bales as needed.
  • Prepare for pasture renovation by purchasing improved varieties, inoculant, etc. and getting equipment ready.

Save Hay by Reducing Feeding Waste

mudMuch expense and many long hours go into harvesting and storing hay for winter feeding.  So why waste it!  Reducing hay feeding waste could be especially important in 2019 since quality hay supplies are limited.

Cattle can waste as much as 45 percent of their hay when it is fed in the open without restrictions.  How can you reduce these losses to minimize costs and maintain an adequate hay supply?

Your first step should be to limit how much hay is available.  Research shows that it takes 25% more hay when you feed cattle a four-day supply at once compared to feeding them every day.  Daily feeding reduces the amount of hay refused, trampled, fouled, over-consumed, or used for bedding.

A second step is to restrict access to the hay by using hay racks, bale rings, electric fences, feed bunks, or anything else that will keep animals off the hay.  Use racks or bale rings with solid barriers at the bottom to prevent livestock from pulling hay loose and then dragging it out to be stepped on.

If you do feed hay on the ground, either as loose hay, unrolled round bales, or as ground hay, it is especially important to follow these guidelines.  Limit the hay fed to an amount animals will clean up in a single meal.  Anything left over will be stepped on, fouled, or used for bedding instead of as feed.  And if you can – use an electric wire or other barrier to restrict access to only one side.

With a little foresight and careful management, you can stretch your hay and your hay dollars further. ~ Tom Keene