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Just how bad is hay situation this year?

Visivasnc/Getty Images cows eating hay
QUALITY CONSIDERATIONS: When considering the lack of quality forages harvested this year, it is possible for a cow to starve to death with hay in front of her all winter.
Buckeye Beef Brief: Take inventory of what you have now to plan your winter feeding program.

By Ted Wiseman

Forage harvest is over, and now you know how much feed you have for this upcoming fall and winter. But do you know what quality your forages are?

The table below shows 45 forage sample analyses from southeastern Ohio taken this year. Thirty-one are first cutting, 10 are second cutting and four are silage. These results show just how tough it was to get quality first-cutting hay made again this year. The energy and protein content are low, especially in the first cutting. These values are expressed on a dry matter basis; if we were to look at them on an as-fed basis, it would appear even worse.

Quality is key

The total digestible nutrient (TDN) requirement for a 1,200-pound beef cow during the last trimester is 54% and rises to 60% at peak milk production. These values are for maintenance levels. They do not account for the additional energy needed for a cow to walk through mud, cold temperatures, rain, sleet or snow. By looking at the TDN values from forage samples this year, you can see that none of the first-cutting forages in this group would be good enough. It may appear that a few would be good enough during the last trimester; but by the time we account for moisture content or as-fed basis and the limitation of just how much a cow can possibly consume, they are not adequate. None of these samples meet the requirement for energy.

The first cutting of forages provides the largest amount of annual production compared to second, third or fourth cuttings. Taking inventory of what you have now for each cutting will give you time to plan your winter feeding program. Most importantly, if you haven’t tested your forages before, this would be the year to do so.

2019 forage analyses chart
Source: OSU Extension


Forage sample well worth cost

The cost of a forage sample is minimal compared to the costs associated with lower body condition scores, low birth weights and poor-quality colostrum or milk production. When considering the lack of quality forages harvested this year, it is possible for a cow to starve to death with hay in front of her all winter. Your local county Extension office can help you with sampling procedures and locating a lab.

Once you know what quality of forages you have, work with a nutritionist to help decide what other feed stuffs you can use to develop a proper beef ration. Getting the numbers on a spreadsheet or computer program is only the starting point. Understanding the complexities of the ruminant digestive system and knowing the limitations of certain feeds is critical. In addition, the Ohio State Beef Team website,, has some great resources addressing feed and feed shortage issues.

Wiseman is the OSU Extension educator in Perry County and a member of the OSU Extension Beef Team. The Beef Team publishes the weekly Ohio Beef Cattle letter which can be received via email or found at

TAGS: Forage Beef
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