Hay mold a growing concern

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Dec 20, 2007
by WLJ


— Negative impacts on calves cited.
— Additional waste weighs financially.

Forage and ruminant nutritionists are urging producers to be careful when it comes to buying their fall and winter hay and other harvested forages due to concerns that mold is more prevalent this year than the past several years.
First and second cutting hay from the central and northern Plains, Intermountain West and Northwest are of the most concern because of the abnormally-heavy rains that inundated those areas during spring and very early summer.
“A lot of early hay was already down when it got rained on,” said Kurt Leffler, hay specialist with LMO Agriculture, Inc., Decatur, MO. “Even with allowing it to dry several days, chances are the air was still damp enough to threaten hay quality and safety at baling time.”
He also said the wetter-than-normal spring helped pre-harvest mold levels which usually accumulate on the under side of leaves where the sun can’t do its job of killing or minimizing mold colonies.
Leffler said it appears that in several areas of Missouri, Kansas and Colorado, mold may have impacted 8-10 percent of the first and second cutting hay harvests, with some producers reporting 20-25 percent spoilage. Usually, Leffler said, mold rates are well under five percent, at two to three percent.
“In one case, it was so bad a whole 4,000-bale stack went up in flames because the hay was wet, got overly hot, and spontaneously combusted. The odor was very bad, indicating the hay was also very moldy,” Leffler explained.
Hay mold isn’t considered very toxic to mature open cows or bulls, particularly in very small levels. However, it is a concern when mold is fed to bred cows with calves on them or to the calves themselves.
“The biggest problem with moldy hay is that calves can turn sickly from eating it directly or by drinking the milk from their mothers that have eaten the hay,” said Rick Turnbull, ruminant specialist with Wichita-based, HiPlains Livestock LLC. “Scours, lost appetite, reduced weight gains and lethargy are the most common impacts to young cattle.”
Turnbull added that while palatability might not seem to be an issue with a lot of hay that shows just slight incidence to mold, the issue of hay waste becomes a financial burden in the case of heavy mold presence.
“I’ve seen where heavy mold in hay can result in 30-50 percent of hay being wasted—that means not being eaten and being trampled on or used as bedding,” he said. “While prices are a lot cheaper than they have been the past few years, that waste still adds up and that’s a lot of extra money that needs to be shelled this winter for feed resources.”
Moldy hay is most easily caught by smelling bales or loaves of hay. A rancid or mildewy smell is a good indicator that hay is at least somewhat moldy and should be avoided, or in the case of feeding older, unbred animals, bought at a reduced price, Turnbull said. If bales are also hot to the touch they should be avoided, because moisture has been trapped within the hay and is not only moldy but is rotting all the way through. — Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor


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