For many farmers across West Virginia, an abundance of wet weather in 2018 has created concern for a potential shortage of hay, which farmers will use to feed livestock through spring 2019. West Virginia University Extension Service Agriculture and Natural Resources Specialists Ed Rayburn and Kevin Shaffer have provided a few management options available to help concerned farmers stretch their resources and keep their herds healthy.
“Though there might be more pressure to do so when hay is in short supply, farmers should avoid turning cattle out to pasture too early in spring to ensure there is adequate forage available in summer.”
“When you buy hay, you are also buying fertilizer, so there are benefits to the extra costs. To get the most out of this fertilizer, farmers should feed hay on land where extra nutrients are needed most. The fertilizer value of hay is about one-third to one-half of its cost.”
“When hay is in short supply, purchasing supplemental feed can help farmers extend hay supplies. If supplementing hay, farmers should use a crude protein supplement, such as dry distillers grain, corn gluten feed or soy bean meal, to stimulate rumen digestion and allow cattle to meet their energy and protein requirements. For every pound of crude protein fed along with low protein hay, cattle need to eat about 5 pounds of digestible dry matter.”
“Even when hay supplies dwindle, it’s important for cows to maintain a healthy body weight during winter calving to prevent negative impacts on the future of the herd. Keeping the herd fed well enough so that one or more calves are still added to the herd the following year will help a farmer to return what was spent on purchased hay. Maintaining this condition also helps reduce the amount of food the herd needs to stay warm in cold weather, which allows farmers to better manage their limited hay supply.”
“If farmers would need to supplement hay with other feed, growing steers and heifers can be slightly shorted on feed since they can gain weight more easily when they go to pasture in the spring. This allows farmers to stretch their supplemental feed supply even further. However, it is still important to maintain a positive energy balance to keep them healthy.”
“Unfortunately, when hay supplies are limited, some farmers will have to liquidate a portion of their herd. Farmers should market old or late-calving cows, as well as those that may have been identified for culling in the fall. If a farmer has calves on hand, those calves should be marketed early. It is imperative to keep the cattle with the most potential for future profit and market those that currently have the highest value and greatest profit margin.”
Kevin Shaffer audio file (0:19)
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