Forage quality reminders for livestock producers
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.