Do You Have Enough Hay to Feed Your Cows this Winter?

DROVERS.COM – by Sara Brown. From wildfires, drought, hurricanes and flooding, it’s been a challenging year for hay production. Whether you are purchasing hay this year, or managed to get your own hay baled, every forage dollar needs to be spent wisely.

Don’t get caught by higher hay prices later—be as accurate in your hay needs now while you still have time to adjust your feeding plans.

“The two pieces of information you need are an approximate weight of your cows, because the size of the cow is going to dictate how much she needs, and her stage of production,” says Amy Radunz, University of Wisconsin associate professor. “Right now, most cows are going to be in gestation.”

For example, if you have a 1,600-lb. dry cow and medium quality forage, “you can estimate they will eat about 2% of their body weight per day and 2.5% later as a lactating cow,” Radunz says. “That’s going to get you pretty close to the cow’s average daily intake needs.”

Anything less than that, and cows are likely to lose body condition ahead of calving. (Download the Drovers body condition score card  (BCS) you can keep in the feed truck to monitor hard keeping cows.) As cows get further along in gestation, their nutrient needs increase.

The goal is to have cows in BCS of 5 to 6 at calving, and maintain her through the months of lactation until breeding, Radunz adds. “If producers wait to address BCS until fall and early winter, it will cost them more in the quantity and quality of forage.”

Estimating hay intake of beef cows

To estimate hay intake, use your hay analysis to determine protein and total digestible nutrients. To estimate minimum hay needs for your herd, put your pencil to paper:

Step 1. Convert dry matter intake needed per day to as-fed intake.

If the intake of a 1,200-lb. cow is 24 lb. per day and dry matter of forage is 70%, then as-fed intake is 34 lb. per day.

1,200-lb. cow x 2% = 24 lb. DMI

24 lb. DMI / .70 % dry matter = 34 lb. as-fed intake per day

Step 2. Estimate how much forage will be needed for the herd based on the number of cows and days feeding forage.

If a 50-cow herd is expected to winter feed for 150 days, this would equal 127.5 tons of hay needed.

34 lb. as-fed intake x 50 cows x 150 days / 2,000 lb. per ton = 127.5 tons

Step 3. Estimate hay losses from storage and feeding method.

“Will your method of feeding create additional waste and storage losses that you need to account for? If you are feeding on the ground, you are going to lose more than if you are feeding in a hay feeder,” Radunz says. Both of those factors will contribute to the amount you need to feed or purchase.

A general assumption of 20% hay loss would raise the total amount of hay needed 153 tons of hay.

127.50 tons hay needed * 1.2 = 153 tons

Weather, temperature and feeding environment will also play a role in the amount of hay is needed each year. Small changes to facility design, or feeding method might help conserve hay quality. 

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