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How Much Hay Is Enough?

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Estimating how much hay you will need to feed each year is critical for maintaining optimal herd health. Accurate estimations can be calculated using the method outlined below.

We always know at some point whether we had enough hay for the winter and whether it was good enough. Sometimes it’s now when we’re running out of hay, and sometimes that point can be next fall when you have more open cows at pregnancy check or fewer and lighter calves to sell.

It’s a little late to determine that requirement for this season, but what about the 2013/2014 feeding season? The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports December 1 hay stocks at the lowest level on record, and the prediction for this summer is for drought to continue in cow country (see map below). In this situation, preparation for next season can’t start too soon.

If you’d rather know sooner than later what your hay needs will be, check out The Winter Feed Estimator. This calculator developed by UF/IFAS Extension agents Mark Warren and Ed Jennings in collaboration with Extension beef specialist Matt Hersom walks you through the numbers you need to estimate your total winter feed tonnage.

Your local County Extension agent should have access to the “slide rule” calculator which takes your estimates of cow size, number of cows, length of feeding period, moisture content and bale weight to come up with a number of bales needed. This can be particularly useful if you are comparing hay and baleage feeding. A dry matter rate of 2.5% of body weight/day is used for daily consumption.

Like all decision aids, the input information is critical. If you miss your cow weights or your bale weights, your estimates won’t be worth much. Take the time to get realistic numbers. Likewise, if your hay quality isn’t up to snuff you’ll need supplementation for energy and/or protein. While you’re talking to your Extension Agent about The Winter Feed Estimator, ask about having your hay tested for nutrient content.  You can read more about hay testing in this article entitled “What’s in You Hay?” in the November 9, 2012 Panhandle Agriculture newsletter.

Cattle and Drought

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