Feeding Forages

Have you heard the latest price of hay! Whether your barn is full of it, you're trying to sell it, or are looking like mad for a source of it; Hay and its price is the hottest topic of conversation at any farm gathering. So with availability down and up, how we get the best use out of our forages is the next best topic of conversation.

So in no particular order please consider the following …..

  • Inventory what you do have … this includes the number of bales, and what they weigh = # of lbs of hay, of what types (the good, the bad, and the gut fill)
  • Test the major forage … This is not the year to feed based on "I think that it's pretty good hay". If a $35 test lets you save 1 lb of hay/cow/day at $.06/lb on 50 cows = $3/day.
  • Figure out what your inventory will carry. Cut to that number or figure out your alternatives NOW. Failing to plan now is how we get thin cows and humane society calls in February and March.
  • Consider buying gates so you can split the cows into 2 feeding groups (the very needy and the not so needy) and feed accordingly.
  • If you can't or won't split the group, ship the thin cows, timid cows and young cows that won't compete for feed.
  • Take a hard look at your feeders. Do they waste a lot of hay? Can they be modified? Do you have enough feeder space? When on a restricted diet, it's important that they all can feed at once.
  • Consider what other forage feedstuffs are out there. Cereal straw can be fed as PART of a ration. Limit to 12-14 lbs to avoid impaction of the rumen. Make sure protein levels are adequate and lots of water is available.
  • Consider if there is a way to use corn stalks. As grazing? Hay? Or Bedding?
  • Consider Soy and Canola straw. They probably won't eat these unless they can be chopped and mixed with other forage, but use them for bedding, and they will pick at them.
  • Use bedding. Lack of bedding increases energy needs by 10-15% (that's 1-2 lbs grain or 2-3 lbs good hay/cow/day). Consider anything that gets them off the cold ground or manure. Soy straw, canola straw, corn stalks, bark or sawdust.
  • It looks like using grain to replace SOME hay may be a $$ wise decision. You will need to price out the costs on a lb of nutrient base. Five-six lbs of corn may replace 8-10 lbs of hay but it will need to be worked out for your set-up.
  • Don't get carried away with grain however. Once you go over 10-12% of the diet (2-3 lbs/1000 lb of body weight) you will depress forage digestibility.
  • If considering grain … will you buy from the mill, off the combine? Where and how will you feed it?
  • If your hay is really tough fibers and low in protein, a protein supplement will help to drive the rumen and increase digestibility of your forage.
  • Many mills offer beef pellets. These can be good, but shop around for price and content. A pellet is not a pellet is not a pellet.
  • Go for a Fat Fall. Try to fatten them up in the fall period to save on energy needs in the winter. A fat cow has 6% lower energy needs than a thinner lady. A cow in good shape can lose 10-15% of her body weight from fall to spring. But this requires constant monitoring.
  • Pray for an Easy Winter, and Early Spring! But get yourself prepared none the less. Or as an old Arabian proverb puts it … "Trust in Allah, but tie your camel."


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: Nancy Noecker - Livestock Advisor/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 29 September 1997
Last Reviewed: 28 September 2015