With the recent heavy frost, there are now management decisions to be made for cattle, horse, and goat owners alike especially where roughage is concerned. If your stocking rates (#animals per acre) are low, your standing forage (roughage) will get you through the winter and our typically dry spring. For some, our pastures could be “running low” and not providing the necessary roughage requirements for our grazing animals. This can have many disastrous effects. These include poor animal health and poor pasture conditions for months and perhaps years to come.
Aside from water, roughage is one of the most important components of a grazing animal’s diet. Fortunately, if the roughage is not growing out of the ground, it can be brought to the animal in the form of hay, but not all hay is alike. There are many varieties on the market, and differences within varieties can be substantial. Fertilization, maturity of the forage at cutting, and curing/handling of the hay can cause these differences. Your most common varieties are the bermudagrass varieties (Coastal and Tifton, etc.), perennial peanut, and alfalfa. To know what you are buying, it is best to purchase from a reputable source to better insure forage quality.
What can you do?
You cannot afford to skimp on providing a roughage source or hay for your animals! So, if you are going to feed hay, how do you save money? First, simply buying “cheap” hay is not the answer. The old saying, “you get what you pay for”, rings true. Buying from a reputable hay producer directly or a feed store operator with whom you have a relationship is invaluable. In addition, you may be able to handle and feed your hay in a way to save money. Consider using a hay feeder. Round bale hay feeders can reduce hay wastage, especially if forage is fed in wet weather or if feeding a lower-quality forage (animals will eat it at a slower pace.) The savings in waste will often pay for the bale feeder in one season. Hay waste can be as great as 42% when fed on the ground and limited to only 3.5% when fed in tapered-cone feeders. Unrolling hay bales may be an alternative to reduce hay wastage, but waste can still be as great as 24%. For more information,http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/an085