For­age qual­ity re­minders for live­stock pro­duc­ers

Calhoun Times - - FRONT PAGE - Greg Bow­man

As we move into the cooler months of the year, many live­stock pro­duc­ers will be plant­ing cool sea­son grasses in our pas­tures and hay­fields. We are thank­ful for the rain­fall that has stayed con­sis­tent in our part of the state since last De­cem­ber. The rain­fall has helped grow a lot of grass in 2017. With that be­ing said, we are still in need of re-es­tab­lish­ing some of our cool sea­son peren­nial grasses, such as fes­cue, due to the drought of 2016. For many pro­duc­ers, plant­ing cool sea­son an­nu­als such as rye grass is a com­mon prac­tice to not only add win­ter graz­ing, but a crop of hay next spring. I will be shar­ing in­for­ma­tion from a UGA pub­li­ca­tion by a host of spe­cial­ist based on un­der­stand­ing and im­prov­ing for­age qual­ity.

For starters, I want to give a plug for two ser­vices we of­fer though our lo­cal ex­ten­sion of­fice. The first is soil sam­pling. I have writ­ten news­pa­per ar­ti­cles for more than a decade and I have preached the im­por­tance of soil test­ing in many ar­ti­cles. For live­stock pro­duc­ers with many acres al­lot­ted to graz­ing and hay pro­duc­tion, the bill to lime and fer­til­ize that land can be large. A soil test is to help you keep a pro­duc­tive soil and also to take out the guess­work in what you ap­ply. Cat­tle prices have dropped from the record high prices of a few years ago so it is a lit­tle tougher to make a profit. Soil test­ing of your land is one tool in get­ting the most bang for your buck.

An­other ser­vice is hay test­ing. That ser­vice is un­der­uti­lized by our pro­duc­ers in gen­eral. We es­ti­mate Gordon County is home to more than 10,000 cows. It takes a lot of hay to get that pop­u­la­tion through the win­ter. I do not see enough hay sam­ples in the of­fice to rep­re­sent even a small per­cent­age of the hay pro­duced. Hay sam­pling your dif­fer­ent cut­tings can let you know the qual­ity of that hay and help you match it to the live­stock in dif­fer­ent stages of pro­duc­tion. This year, we started the “Gone Hay­wire Chal­lenge.” I would like to see more hay test­ing in our county. We even have a hay probe that can be checked out for your sam­pling ef­forts.

Keep in mind that for­age qual­ity has value. I re­mem­ber as a young agent sit­ting in a class at our lo­cal ex­ten­sion of­fice and Dr. Carl Hove­land, UGA For­age Spe­cial­ist, was the speaker. The room was filled with mainly cat­tle en­thu­si­asts. Dr. Hove­land opened by ask­ing how many in the room were cat­tle pro­duc­ers. Hands went up all over the au­di­to­rium, but Dr. Hove­land quickly told the group they were not cat­tle pro­duc­ers. He stated ev­ery­one in the room were for­age pro­duc­ers first. Yes, they have cat­tle and other live­stock, but if they would keep in mind they were for­age grow­ers first, rais­ing the live­stock would be much eas­ier. Com­mod­ity and by-prod­uct feeds are rel­a­tive ex­pen­sive in gen­eral. Pro­vid­ing a high qual­ity for­age ei­ther as graz­ing, hay or baleage is not cheap ei­ther, but is nor­mally cheaper to pro­duce than sup­ple­ments that are nor­mally fed to our live­stock.

On the flip­side, a for­age that is lower in qual­ity or di­gestibil­ity will not meet the nu­tri­tional re­quire­ments of your live­stock. This poor qual­ity for­age will lead to more sup­ple­men­ta­tion thus higher cost of pro­duc­tion. I al­ways keep in mind a theme from Dr. Hove­land’s lec­ture that ev­ery day the cow can take care of her­self with a qual­ity for­age in terms of graz­ing in­stead of hav­ing to pro­vide her meal for the day will also help in mak­ing a prof­itable ven­ture.

I know we are wrap­ping up the hay sea­son for 2017, but one thing to keep in mind is qual­ity can be bet­ter than quan­tity in re­gard to bal­ing grass hay. For ex­am­ple, ber­muda grass that will be baled can have a crude pro­tein in the 10-12 per­cent range and a TDN or to­tal di­gestible nu­tri­ents in the 58-62 per­cent range at four weeks of ma­tu­rity. Many folks will not bale at that ear­lier stage due to want­ing more vol­ume of hay pro­duced. Ber­muda mowed and baled at eight weeks of ma­tu­rity can drop to 6-8 per­cent crude pro­tein and have a TDN from 45-50 per­cent. Don’t for­get fes­cue in re­gards to qual­ity. Tall fes­cue in the late boot stage can have a crude pro­tein around 14-16 per­cent with a TDN of 66-70 per­cent. Wait­ing longer to har­vest in the dough or seed stage can drop crude pro­tein to 8-10 per­cent and TDN to 50-54 per­cent. I will add that in some years hay qual­ity can be so poor that you can ba­si­cally be feed­ing straw to the an­i­mals.

Hay sam­pling can let you know what you are work­ing with as far as hay qual­ity. It is not too late to test hay from this year. Again, we have a hay probe and soil probes that can be checked out and used. We can also give you sam­pling pro­ce­dure di­rec­tions.

Fi­nally, study up on the dif­fer­ent for­age va­ri­eties on the mar­ket and try to match up to your sit­u­a­tion and needs. Some farm­ers will work with the peren­nial grasses they al­ready have and sup­ple­ment with win­ter or sum­mer an­nu­als for ex­am­ple. One key is cor­rect tim­ing when you do plant. Plant­ing a cool sea­son right be­fore we get hot in the sum­mer can be a recipe for dis­as­ter so tim­ing is key. Plus, some grasses will work in our area while other va­ri­eties will not. Make sure you do your home­work be­fore plant­ing. I will add again, the “Gone Hay­wire Chal­lenge” is for any­one that stores hay or baleage for win­ter feed­ing. I will send you an in­for­ma­tion flyer by mail or email. For more in­for­ma­tion, con­tact UGA Ex­ten­sion-Gordon County at 706-629-8685 or email gbow­man@uga.edu.

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