Matching forage quality to a cow's nutritional needs takes some management skills.
Producing high-quality hay depends upon cutting the forage plant at a vegetative stage and then getting enough dry sunny days to allow the plants to dry, ideally, to 15% to 18% moisture content before baling. While the frequent rainfalls we received earlier this year were good for forage growth, they also hindered quality hay production.
Many hayfields were cut at a full-bloom or later stage of development. Remember that for any grass or legume plant quality as measured by crude protein, energy and digestibility declines as the plant matures. It looks like hay supplies in terms of quantity are in good shape this year, but quality, particularly of first-cutting hay, is generally low.
One management decision cattlemen should give more thought to this year is the timing of when poor-quality hay is used. In the past, when corn and soybean meal were relatively inexpensive, they were used to plug the gap between the cow's nutritional need and what the low-quality hay failed to provide in terms of energy and/or protein. In today's economic reality, that practice can quickly eat away potential profitability. Ideally the cattleman should strive to match hay quality to the nutritional needs of the cow while minimizing or eliminating expensive supplemental grain.
Let's take a look at the nutritional needs of the spring-calving cow at this time of year, along with some expected low quality hay values.
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