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Proper Timing Pushes Up Crude Protein On ForagesProper Timing Pushes Up Crude Protein On Forages

Moving up the cutting date on many forage crops can improve quality.

Curt Arens

February 18, 2014

2 Min Read

With proper management, anything is possible. Tweaking your management of homegrown forages can help you meet the protein and energy needs of your cattle herd, without adding extra costs to your bottom line. That's what University of Nebraska Extension educator, Dennis Bauer of Ainsworth, told a group of producers at a Beef Profit Tips meeting in Center recently.

"Putting up high quality forages at no extra cost saves you money" because you may be able to meet the protein and energy requirements of your herd without purchasing additional supplements, Bauer said. But, timing is everything.

"There are times when we can feed some pretty low quality feedstuffs like cornstalks," he said.


At other times of the year, when the herd needs higher quality feed, moving up the cutting date on forage crops can make a big difference at improving the quality of the forages harvested and eventually fed to the herd.

Cool-season forages are often harvested too late, said Bauer. UNL studies show that quality dips dramatically in a three-week period during the growing season. "If we cut earlier, we won't be harvesting as much, but we will have more after-growth," he said. "Most people put up hay by the end of June and early July when the protein levels are at six to seven percent," Bauer explained. "If they would harvest two weeks earlier, the protein would be around 10% to 14%."

Weather is a factor in harvesting good quality hay for many producers. "The first part of July is usually good haying weather, but it is not good timing for quality," he said. "Late cut hay, harvested in September, also provides good quality regrowth hay when there is a spike in crude protein."

The highest quality is usually in May, with a downward trend in crude protein into early July when protein levels are relatively flat, until they spike again in early September.

On studies of eight cool-season grasses, crude protein levels were at 12.4% when heads were half emerged. Brome grass was actually higher than that at the same stage, with 16.5% protein. By the time one quarter of the heads were in full bloom, protein dropped to 8.6% on the eight grasses and to 10.2% on brome. When seeds were at dough stage, about the time many producers begin harvest, protein levels had dropped to the six to seven percent range.

"Warm season grasses are usually not as high in quality as cool season grasses," Bauer said. "In the drought year of 2012, if you had enough forages, we actually saw better cattle performance than in 2013 when there was fast growth, but the quality was so poor."

You can learn more about ways to balance protein and energy levels for the herd by contacting Bauer by emailing him at [email protected], or call 402-387-2213.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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