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WVU Extension Service experts offer farmers advice for managing dwindling hay supplies

a round hay bale sits in a mowed field

West Virginia farmers may face a hay shortage this summer. WVU Extension Service experts can help farmers with some management.

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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. 

Ed Rayburn
Pasture and Haylage Specialist and Professor
WVU Extension Service

“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.”

Ed Rayburn audio file (0:23)

“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.”

Ed Rayburn audio file (0:40)

Kevin Shaffer
Livestock Specialist and Assistant Professor
WVU Extension Service

“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.”

Kevin Shaffer audio file (0:24)

“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.” 

Kevin Shaffer audio file (0:24)

“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)

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.



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