Plan now to find hay substitutes
This winter’s extreme cold and heavy snow have begun to take their toll on already short hay supplies, warns Greg Lardy, North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Service beef cattle specialist.
Cows are consuming 30 percent to 40 percent more hay than normal in some situations as they try to maintain body weight during the cold weather. This has resulted in smaller-than-normal hay supplies and is causing many producers to worry about having enough hay to get through the winter. This situation has been made worse by the poor hay crop in 2008 due to a cold spring, which slowed forage growth, and dry conditions, which limited yield.
“Now is the time to take steps to deal with this situation.” Lardy says. “Don’t wait until hay supplies are exhausted to make ration adjustments. During the colder weather, cows require additional nutrients. They will consume more hay to meet these needs, or you can provide other feedstuffs in an effort to stretch short hay supplies. Reports indicate hay supplies are tight in many areas of the state, and with the continual challenge of blocked roads and difficult travel, planning now for feed needs later this spring is prudent.”
Producers can use feed grains, such as corn or barley, or byproducts, such as distillers grains, wheat middlings, corn gluten feed, sugar beet pulp or barley malt sprouts, to stretch feed supplies, he says. Research shows that, depending on feeding method, relatively high levels of these products can be used to replace forage in the diet and stretch tight hay supplies. Feeding cattle rations with limited forage and increased levels of grain is one option. However, the strategy of limit feeding higher-concentrate diets requires careful ration management to execute successfully. In addition, when cows are limit fed high-grain rations, they will feel hungry, even when their nutrient needs are met. Consequently, tight fences will be required to keep the cows in their pen or pasture if this strategy is implemented.
Even in situations where grain is not limit fed but higher levels are used, the potential to reduce forage digestibility and predispose cows to metabolic disorders such as acidosis is a concern, so producers need to be cautious when utilizing grain or byproducts in cow diets, Lardy says. Producers should be sure to meet the protein requirements of their cattle when feeding high levels of grain because the potential negative effects of starch on fiber digestion are greater when protein requirements are not met. For more information on stretching hay supplies, as well as other advice on dealing with the effects of winter weather, visit NDSU Extension’s Web site at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/disaster/winter storm.html. — WLJ