MT. VERNON, Mo. — University Extension livestock and forage specialists around the country do a great job of educating clientele about forage quality. However, Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension, says he sees numerous opportunities for improvement in some very basic areas when he drives around the region.
One-way to approach improvements is to ask yourself a few basic questions as we move into the winter feeding season.
“Keep in mind, roughly two-thirds of the cost of keeping a cow for a year is the cost of feed of which winter forage is a major share,” said Cole.
Have you ever had a laboratory analysis done on your hay or haylage? It’s amazing how many farmers have never spent the $20 to $30 to find what is really in the bale from a nutritional standpoint. Key items include moisture, total digestible nutrients (TDN), crude protein and neutral detergent fiber (NDF). Relative forage quality (RFQ) may help when comparing forages, but RFQ is not viewed as a nutrient.
Have you weighed any of your bales? Large hay packages are typically over-estimated in weight. This may be worse on haylages as moisture levels will cause an overestimate on dry matter. You do not need to weigh every bale. Weigh some out of each different type of hay.
Do you have an idea how much waste there is from a bale feeder or where the unrolled bales are fed? It might surprise some that even under ideal conditions, a 6 to 10 percent waste is likely. If the bale feeder is not a top of the line, well-managed one, waste levels of 25 to 35 percent is not unreasonable. Cone-shaped feeders receive the best marks for hay savings based on research. Hay quality, based on lab tests and stage of maturity, are also major factors in wastage.
Are there “problems” in some of the hay and haylage you plan to offer your cattle? Examples are high nitrate levels, ergot alkaloids, toxic or undesirable weeds like spotted knapweed and johnsongrass, which you don’t want to be spread to some of your fields.
Do you have nutritional guidelines for the various classes of cattle you plan to feed this winter? The main considerations would be daily dry matter intake, TDN, crude protein, and NDF. Guidelines are usually available from your Extension livestock specialist.
Do you sort cows, heifers, and weaned calves into nutrient groups, so the ones with the greatest nutritional need receive the best hay? Sorts usually fall into dry cows, lactating cows, weaned calves, body condition scores of 4 and lower should be fed apart from the 5’s, 6’s, and 7’s. Don’t forget to get the bulls in shape for the next breeding season.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information, contact an MU Extension livestock or agronomy specialists in southwest Missouri. Available livestock specialists include Eldon Cole in Lawrence County, (417) 466-3102; Andy McCorkill in Dallas County at (417) 345-7551; Elizabeth Picking in Howell County at (417) 256-2391 or Dr. Patrick Davis in Cedar County at (417) 276-3313. Available agronomy specialists in the region are Tim Schnakenberg in Stone County, (417) 357-6812; Jill Scheidt in Barton County, (417) 682-3579 and Sarah Kenyon in Howell County, (417) 256-2391.
— Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension
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