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Do your cows have enough hay?Do your cows have enough hay?

Kansas State University experts offer advice on forage supplementation for cow-calf herds.

Sarah McNaughton

September 22, 2023

2 Min Read
Cattle around a round bale feeder
FEEDING FORAGES: Especially during times of drought, producers should sample and test forages for nutrients, and find any places where nutrient supplementation may be needed. Jacqueline Nix

Dry conditions and drought are something many producers are experiencing across the region. With the smallest U.S. cow herd in 60 years, how will drought affect the future value of productive females?

Jason Warner, a cow-calf specialist at Kansas State University Extension, says producers should remember six key points for developing a forage plan in times of drought:

  1. Know your herd inventory.

  2. Know your feed inventory.

  3. Calculate harvested forage needs.

  4. Consider alternatives.

  5. Minimize feed and forage shrink.

  6. Be flexible and look for new opportunities.

“In a drought situation, we may have to be looking at how we can supplement that forage,” Warner explains. “Protein content is our first limiting factor when we’re working with less than 7% crude protein in that pasture.”

In addition to knowing forage inventories, he says that producers should begin sampling harvested forages for feed needs. “Be aware of the possible presence of molds or other anti-nutritional compounds in hay harvested at higher-than-typical moisture levels,” he says.

Cost of supplements

Pricing out supplements based on the units of energy gained may help offset rising prices.

“When we think about maybe supplementing protein and energy together, you have to make sure it fits your situation,” he says. “Regardless of whether it’s a protein or energy source you’re purchasing, I always encourage folks to think about it on a cost per unit of nutrient basis.”

With prices varying greatly based on location and operation structure, Warner says he always recommends comparing prices to get the most bang for your buck.

“When you’re thinking about a dry distillers grain source or corn gluten feed or silage hay, it needs to be priced out appropriately,” he says. “There’s the idea that there’s a big cost difference in what you’re purchasing that supplemental nutrient for, and you always want to be thinking of that difference as you make decisions moving forward.”

Rolled corn, alfalfa hay, sorghum hay, dried distillers grain, corn gluten feed and soybean hull pellets are all options for energy and protein supplementation.

“If you’ve got an alfalfa hay source that is 58% TDN, and are supplementing DDGs or corn, you might be able to save about 14 cents per cow per day with a higher-quality alfalfa, and that can add up very quickly,” he says. “Good-quality forage sampling is always important. But during times of drought, it becomes even more paramount to costs saving.”

To determine if you have adequate hay and forage on hand for your herd, turn to the Kansas State University forage inventory calculator for help in making supplement decisions this fall.

About the Author(s)

Sarah McNaughton

Editor, Dakota Farmer, Farm Progress

Sarah McNaughton is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture communications, along with minors in animal science and Extension education. She is working on completing her master’s degree in Extension education and youth development, also at NDSU. In her undergraduate program, she discovered a love for the agriculture industry and the people who work in it through her courses and involvement in professional and student organizations.

After graduating college, Sarah worked at KFGO Radio out of Fargo, N.D., as a farm and ranch reporter. She covered agriculture and agribusiness news for North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Most recently she was a 4-H Extension agent in Cass County, N.D., teaching, coordinating and facilitating youth programming in various project areas.

She is involved in agriculture in both her professional and personal life, serving on the executive board for North Dakota Agri-Women, and as a member in American Agri-Women, Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority Alumni and Professional Women in Agri-business. As a life-long 4-H’er, she is a regular volunteer for North Dakota 4-H programs and events.

In her free time, she is an avid backpacker and hiker, enjoys running with her cattle dog Ripley, and can be found most summer weekends at rodeos around the Midwest.

Sarah is originally from Grand Forks, N.D., and currently resides in Fargo.

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