Harvesting quality hay
June 29, 2009
Rain, rain and more rain in much of the country seems to be the story which is great to see after 8-10 years of drought. The rains have been great for pastures and many comment it is the best pasture conditions they have seen in the last 15-20 years. It is also great to see that there should be ample irrigation water as the reservoirs are at a good level for this time of year.
Along with the plentiful and frequent rains come challenges especially in making quality hay. Many have delayed harvesting first cutting alfalfa and those that cut early have had plenty of challenges in getting it baled. Some have elected to put it up as haylage which was a good management decision. In some cases the quality or the nutrient level of the hay in the windrows has decreased. Both protein and energy levels have decreased with each rain as well as discoloration. In many cases the vitamin A content or actually carotene has been lost. The drop in protein and energy has been due to both leaf loss and leaching. I can recall some old data where rain was simulated and with each inch of rain the protein dropped between .5 -1 percent and TDN decreased 1-2 percent.
The wonderful moisture has produced a lot of grass on hay meadows. It is probably more important this year to harvest this grass relative early because of its rapid growth. The difference between early and late harvest may be huge in terms of the amount of protein supplement that may need to be purchased. Hay testing up to seven percent crude protein will need to be supplemented while hay over eight percent protein may not need any additional protein supplementation. That two percent difference in protein can be lost in a two – three week time period by delaying cutting. It is true that the later cut hay will yield slightly more tons per acre but will yield very little more tons of protein and energy per acre and the level of digestibility will be lower. Because of the lower digestibility often it is found that less beef will be produced or maintained from an acre if cut late. If hay has over eight percent protein and 55 percent TDN a mature cow can be wintered on this hay with some gain up to calving. Only mineral supplementation is needed.
In contrast if the hay tests six percent protein then approximately two pounds of a 32 percent protein supplement may be needed. Let’s assume the added protein supplementation costs $0.25 per day. By having the high quality hay and not needing the additional protein that savings would make the better quality early cut hay worth $11-12 more per ton. Often these differences are not reflected in the price of hay. Hay is often traded on color which is not a good and specific indicator of nutrient quantity. This points out the importance of buying hay based on nutrient analysis.
The level of maturity is more sensitive and important with annual forages such as sorghum – sudans, millets, wheat and oats. Often I hear the comment, “it is really good hay as grain falls out when I feed.” Actually, that “hay” is good quality straw with some poorly digestible whole grain included.
This year it appears horn flies have built up early with very high populations. As “fly tagging” has deceased in use we must rely on other methods of controlling flies. Fly bags and back rubbers work relatively well if they are located where they are forced to be used such as in gates as cows goes to water or travel between pastures. Bulls usually waste dust in bags unless they are horned and then they usually tear them down and walk on them as they fight flies. I have not noticed cattle suffering from house and stable flies and bunching in corners yet but with the level of rain, producing a lot of decaying material, I suspect we will see that soon.
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The stable and house is much more difficult to control.
Spraying with knock down sprays such as Vapona or pyrethroids helps for a short period but the residuals of these insecticides are poor. Minerals containing insecticides do a good job assuming the cows and calves all consume the minerals on a fairly regular bases. They help especially in horn fly control and may have limited benefit for house and stable fly, depending on the insecticide.
If you are not knowledgeable on “cap and trade” issue, I would encourage you to study the issue as it is currently being debated in the U.S. house and will soon go to the U.S. senate and may have a large impact on the way you do business on the ranch on in agriculture in general. In general, it is an effort by Washington DC decision makers to reduce the so-called green house gases by trading emissions. Those that are emitters have to buy or trade carbon with those that can sequester the carbons.
The cattle industry has been targeted as part of the gas emissions which is a myth as the livestock contributions are so small (less than one percent of the methane produced in the world comes from cattle) compared to other sources. Some of agriculture may gain some benefit, currently the range communities, by getting funds for carbon sequestration if they prove that some their adopted practices will capture additional carbon than “conventional” practices. In many people’s opinion the largest concern with “cap and trade” is if large costs are forced on the energy industries then agriculturists, who are large energy consumers, may have a tremendous increase in already high input costs.
I recently heard an excellent presentation by Denis Avery, of the Hudson Institute at the Western Section of Animal Science meetings, and he convinced me and several others that he had plenty of evidence that the so called global warming was not man made but was simply a cycle that is experienced ever 400-800 years. If this “cap and trade” issue concerns you, now is the time to express your concerns to the decision makers or support those that are in contact with those in Washington.