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Use Conservation Practices and Good Planning to Meet Winter Hay Needs

By: Greg Drake II, County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources

Source: Tom Keene, UK Plant and Soil Sciences Hay Specialist

Hay availability in Kentucky may be short this winter because of multiple, compounded issues. Due to weather events—last year’s drought and this year’s early record rainfall—both hay quality and yield are down. It is important to protect the hay crop you have and use it wisely—that smart conservation and planning will help make hay last longer through the winter.

The variability of yield, quality and number of cuttings indicate the hay supply could get tight. To ensure an adequate amount, farmers should enact several measures. Store hay inside a barn, where it will remain dry. Remember to store hay in barns that have access in all types of weather. If that is not feasible, cover with a tarp to protect it from the elements. Buy hay by the ton if at all possible and require certified stamped weight.

Farmers should get their hay tested by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to determine if they need to buy additional hay. Testing is the first step to knowing how much will be necessary to meet the nutritional needs of the animals they feed, from horses to cattle to goats.

Hay is tested primarily for crude protein, acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), total digestible nutrients (TDV), and relative feed value (RFV). For more information, refer to University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service publication “Interpreting Forage Quality Reports,” at http://www.uky.edu/Ag/AnimalSciences/pubs/id101.pdf .

Hay is typically fed from mid-December until mid-March, approximately 110 days, though that will vary due to weather, pasture conditions, and the needs of different animals. To reduce waste, get hay, whether round or square bales, off the ground, either by using pallets, feeders, or hay carts. This simple step can reduce wasted hay by almost half. If that is impossible, feed in long rows so hay is consumed immediately, rather than leaving a round bale out for animals to pick at. They will consume the center of the round bale, which has remained dry and protected, first, and that judicious eating will greatly increase waste.

To determine hay needs:

    Calculate the number of days animals will need feed.
    Weigh a random sample of bales so you know the average weight of your bales, using scales at feed mills or truck stops.
    With the results of the hay test, calculate how many pounds each animal will need daily.
    Arrive at a grand total of how much hay the herd will require over the winter.

Forward planning and good management practices will help ensure an adequate hay supply during the winter. Because hay is a commodity whose price is driven by supply and demand, it is unlikely that prices will be lower in the coming months, so if you do not have enough, you should buy it now, before more buyers move into the market. A tight supply, plus possible hay purchases from bordering states, may possibly elevate what are already high prices. Straw is also likely to be expensive.

For more information, contact the Butler County Cooperative Extension Service at 112 E GL Smith Street, Morgantown, or call 270-526-3767 or review University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service publication “Quality Hay Production,” http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/agr/agr62/agr62.pdf.

Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.

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