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Photo by Lea Kimley.

My first cutting is just “cow hay” — now what?

By Jimmy Henning, Forage Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky

Late cut hay is a fact of life in Kentucky. There are worse things. Drought, for example. It is no failure if some first cuttings of hay are late, or rain damaged for that matter. The list of things that have to get done in May never ends for the part-time, diversified farmers that form the bulk of the beef cattle producers.

Farmers face a never-ending set of “what to do first” decisions. Something has to be second, or third. So late cuttings of hay happen. The real mistake is to let a less-than-perfect first cutting stop the conversation hay management because a farmer thinks we in Extension are disappointed.

 

Next steps if you think your first cutting is just “cow hay”

The first thing to do is to get a representative core sample and send it to a certified lab for analysis. It is best but not absolutely necessary if it goes through the sweat before taking the sample. Next, store the hay inside if possible, but at least get it off the ground (on rock, pallets and so on). If you are going to have more than one cutting or hay from other fields, store so this lot of hay can be accessed and fed as needed.

Once the results are back, do some planning with the UK Beef Cow Supplementation Tool (http://forage-supplement-tool.ca.uky.edu/). This very simple tool will let you determine what you need to feed with your ‘cow hay’ to meet nutritional needs. Knowing your needs early can let you work with your supplier to secure best pricing.

This supplement tool calculates an intake figure from the total fiber in the hay, but you need to make sure actual consumption matches or exceeds the estimates from the tool. You may need to get some current weights for hay bales so you can back calculate intake from hay disappearance. Don’t forget to take into account the waste that happens, even if this is only a guess.

The tool also cannot take into account changing energy needs with weather. As a guide, every 10-degree drop below the thermo-neutral temperature increases energy needs by 5%. And the thermo-neutral temperature is greatly affected by whether the hair on the cow is wet. The thermo-neutral temperature for cows with dry hair coats is 18 F, but 55 F when that hair is wet. So the energy needs for cows when it is 35 F and raining is 10% higher than that predicted by the tool (55 – 35 is 20 and each 10 degree change means 5% more energy). Thinking back, we had a lot of 35 F and rainy days last winter, and cows lost a lot of condition.

Another thing to remember is that the summer is far from over, and other cuttings may be more timely. Hope springs eternal in a farmer. It has too.

Another idea – Make some serious plans to stockpile tall fescue. A well-managed (not overgrazed) field of tall fescue that is rested from mid-summer into the fall and fertilized with 60 pounds of N in mid-August can provide better quality feed for cattle than any hay you will likely produce this summer. Grazing stockpiled fescue will lessen days where hay is necessary. Strip grazing the stockpiled fescue with make this high quality forage last longer (due to less waste) and quite possibly reduce mud caused from bale feeding later in the winter.

Remember, just because you made “cow hay” does not mean the forage conversation is over. Not by a long shot.

Happy foraging.

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