To Stretch Short Hay Supply, 'Feed Less, Need Less'

As winter feeding season continues with a forecast of Arctic weather in February, cow herd owners face dwindling hay supplies.
( Wyatt Bechtel )

As winter feeding season continues with a forecast of Arctic weather in February, cow herd owners face dwindling hay supplies.

Eric Bailey, University of Missouri beef nutritionist, gives the short answer: "Feed less, need less."

In practice, that takes management decisions and exacting math.

The "need less" part means selling cows. That makes fewer mouths to feed. Selling some cows may be beneficial as it puts stocking rate in synch with carrying capacity of the farm.

If a cow isn't carrying a calf, she shouldn't still be in the herd. Pregnancy checks are a starting point.

Cows with bad attitudes or poor production should go down the road. Again, it's fewer mouths to feed.

"No cow should be given a second chance," Bailey says. If she fails to conceive in your farming system, she'll likely fail on retry. Keeping bad cows builds a mediocre herd.

In his MU Extension talks to farmers, the nutrition specialist goes beyond talking vitamins and minerals. He tells management tips that cut costs.

He urges dealing with big problems first. Profits are the point of feeding cows.

In hay feeding, match amount fed to the body needs of the cow. Here's where matchups become important. Is it an 800-pound bale or a 1,200-pound bale? Is it a 1,000-pound cow or half again more in body weight?

Rations are based on the body weight of a cow. General rule: Hay needed is 3 percent of body weight per day.

In an example, Bailey uses a 1,000-pound bale and a 1,400-pound cow. With easy math, rounded off, each cow needs 40 pounds of hay a day. That lets one bale feed 22 cows. But not all hay is the same quality. Hay testing allows fine-tuning needs.

A mid-gestation cow needs a ration of 55 percent TDN (total digestible nutrients). A cow that calved and nurses a calf needs 65 percent TDN.

That mid-gestation cow needs only 7 percent crude protein. The lactating cow needs 11 percent CP.

Oh, then there's hay waste to calculate. Feeding cows requires precision to stretch hay supplies.

Some tips: Roll out only a day's worth of hay at a time. Then cut hours of access to that hay. With three hours of access, a cow wastes 6 pounds of hay a day. Given 24 hours, she wastes nearly 14 pounds a day.

Feeding less hay may take buying and feeding supplement. Needed feed can be made in part by plentiful low-cost byproduct feeds. Those are feeds left in making biofuels, whether ethanol or soy oil. A ration fed at 1 percent of body weight can be half grain (such as corn) and half byproduct.

Before he came to Missouri, Bailey used the MU Extension weekly byproduct feed report published on the MU AgEBB (Ag Extension Bulletin Board) website. Look it up on the web and subscribe.

Feeding management starts with knowing how many days of hay are left. Then herd owners must know what it takes to maintain different animals in the herd.

Counting cows doesn't provide an answer on how much hay will be needed. Feeding is based on body weight of animals.

Bailey, who came to Missouri after working in the Southwest, grew up on a New Mexico ranch.

With that background, he says Missourians have great resources for beef cow herds. Plentiful grass and hay grow here. Supplements are plentiful and low-cost.

Last year an ag drought across much of Missouri reduced grass growth and fall stockpiles. While hay may be short, feed is plentiful.

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