SEDALIA, Mo. — Last week, I discussed winter feed cost estimates for mature cows in late gestation. One glaring item was the daily feed cost difference between purchasing good or poor quality hay, with poor quality hay and adequate grain supplementation currently being the cheaper option. I thought that might need a bit more discussion, since it seems contrary to what we normally think of in terms of feeding livestock.
One item not accounted for in last week’s examples was different levels of hay waste with various quality hay. Hay waste was fixed at 5% for each type of hay, good (10% protein, 58% TDN, $110/ton), fair (8% protein, 53% TDN, $90/ton), and poor (6% protein, 48% TDN, $70 per ton). We know poor quality hay will likely have greater waste than either the fair or good quality hay. What is the impact of hay waste on cow daily feed cost?
For illustration purposes, assume hay waste of 5% for good hay, 10% for fair hay, and 20% for poor hay. Using these hay waste assumptions, approximately 31 pounds of each quality of hay needs to be offered per head per day, even though hay consumption is estimated to be about 30, 28, and 26 pounds for good, fair, and poor hay respectively. Grain supplements are then used to balance the rations.
Based on these hay waste estimates, total feed cost per cow per day is $1.96 for good hay, $1.81 for fair hay, and $1.83 for poor hay. Note that daily feed costs for poor hay are a few cents higher than fair hay, even though poor hay is priced $20 per ton cheaper. Higher quality, more expensive hay in this case is actually cheaper to feed due to less waste and lower supplementation needs and costs. Supplement cost per cow per day is $0.26 for good quality hay, $0.43 for fair quality hay, and $0.70 for poor quality hay, with the remaining feed cost coming from hay.
Understand the relationship between hay quality, hay storage and feeding waste, and hay price. Even though poor quality hay may be purchased at a lower price, it may require extensive supplementation and have excessive hay waste. Feed storage and feeding equipment as well as time and expense devoted to supplement feeding are additional expenses to consider. These additional costs may offset the initial lower hay price.
There is value in purchasing high quality hay, but it’s use should be targeted to animals with high nutrient demands, such as backgrounding calves, replacement heifers, and young cows. Mature cows in late gestation can utilize lower quality forage as long as adequate supplement is provided. Knowing the nutrient requirements and expected level of performance of the animals being fed are keys to purchasing appropriate quality hay.
When comparing different sources of hay, the bottom line in purchasing hay is to know animal nutrient requirements, forage quality, and bale weight. Estimates of additional supplement needs and potential hay waste can be determined. Then a more informed decision can be made as to which hay should be purchased and what the estimated feeding cost of that will be. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Pettis County Extension office at (660) 827-0591 if you have additional questions on this topic.
— Gene Schmitz
Field Specialist in Livestock
University of Missouri Extension
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