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Get the most out of your hay crop: Test and read feed results.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

June 15, 2021

3 Min Read
bales of hay
KNOW YOUR HAY: This year produced plentiful forage in much of Missouri. It is turning out to be one of the cheaper options livestock owners should be looking at for fall and winter as feed costs remain high. Mindy Ward

Beef cattle producers may be looking to hay as the cheapest feed source this year. The Missouri direct hay report has 2021 new-crop hay markets steady, which University of Missouri Extension state beef specialist Eric Bailey says is “surprising.”

Farmers who purchased nitrogen to boost pasture growth likely paid up to 40% more this year. Cattle producers are not only experiencing high prices for grain, Bailey explains, but also high prices for inputs such as fertilizer and fuel.

Still, that increase has not carried over to the hay markets just yet. Bailey says it is setting up for a scenario where “good hay is undervalued in today’s market, and bad hay is probably overvalued relative to what it is.”

However, the kind of hay farmers are buying or putting up matters to keep animals in good condition. The key is testing hay and understanding your results.

Don’t skip hay test

When cattle are in good condition and hay is cheap, farmers tend to forgo a hay test. Bailey advises against that practice. With margins so tight and the high price of traditional feeds such as corn and soybeans, Bailey says hay testing is an “invaluable tool” for beef producers.

Hay should be tested at least 45 days before feeding and include at least 10 bales. It is important to determine if hay is deficient in macronutrients before feeding. Bailey focuses on protein and energy.

“In Missouri, most often what I see is inadequacies or deficiencies in energy in common grass hay,” he says. If hay is short in either area, farmers may consider adding a supplement.

How to read feed test

Understanding a feed test for hay is critical to managing supplementation. However, Bailey says the results are often “daunting” to decipher for cattle producers. When farmers receive a feed test, it has up to 60 data points — they can be on a wet or dry basis or on an as-fed basis.

Bailey breaks down how to interpret the information.

First, ignore the wet basis. Bailey says cattle producers should be interested in expressing feeds without the water. The only time that the water comes into play is in a situation with baleage.

On a wet basis, for instance, with fescue baleage, the crude protein would come out under 4%, which Bailey says is well below the nutrient requirements of beef cows. But when the water is taken out and it is expressed on a dry basis, crude protein is close to 11%.

Second, look at total digestible nutrients, or TDN, for energy. “TDN value is based on the fiber content of the forage,” Bailey says, “so they don’t measure energy directly.” He explains that the feed test lab measures the fiber content or acid detergent fiber (ADF). The more lignin, the more cellulose there is in a feedstuff, the less energy.

Most Missouri hay is adequate in terms of protein, but inadequate for energy. Bailey says lick tubs do not make up for energy, adding that farmers should not spend money unnecessarily on these types of supplements.

Third, if you’re uncertain of the results, get advice from MU Extension or a local nutritionist. They can assist in determining if a farmer should feed hay alone or add supplements.

When looking at this year’s hay crop, cattle producers need to think ahead to the fall and winter seasons because the way the grain markets look now, Bailey says, feed prices will likely stay high. Testing hay is one way to make sure cattle have the right nutrient requirements and possibly save money on additional supplements.

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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