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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Poor Forage Quality Requires Solid Nutrition Management This Winter

November 9, 2011

ATHENS, Ohio – Concerned with forage quality, particularly over late-made first cutting hay, an Ohio State University Extension specialist said farmers need to diligently manage livestock nutrition needs this fall and winter.

“We have pretty good forage quantity, but what is going to hurt us is the quality,” said Rory Lewandowski, an educator with the Extension Beef Team. “Most of southeastern Ohio is going to be in that situation, because we had decent amounts of hay in terms of tonnage, but the quality, especially of that first cutting, is going to present a problem.”

Lewandowski said some producers reported making more hay in terms of overall tonnage than in recent memory, but that most were uniformly late getting into fields because of the overly wet spring across most of Ohio.

He said members of the Beef Team across the state reported similar findings, and that in many cases producers were stuck putting off cutting hay because they were still planting corn and soybeans during the optimum window for first cutting.

“Sometimes we had a trade-off getting crops in versus getting hay made,” Lewandowski said.
“Quality reflects that lateness of making the hay.”

For producers concerned their first cutting isn’t of as high a quality as normal or necessary, the Beef Team offers several important recommendations.

First, know exactly what you’re dealing with in terms of the nutritive value of the hay in the first place. Taking forage samples and sending them off to a reputable testing lab is a must.

“You really need to have an idea of what that quality is to make determinations about when to use it, and what type of supplementation, if any, is necessary,” Lewandowski explained. “You can’t do that simply by guessing.”

Next, he recommended feeding the poorest quality hay first, and saving higher-quality, second- and third-cutting hay for later in the season, particularly when animals are in the last third of the gestation cycle.

Earlier in the fall, the Beef Team encouraged producers to feed poorer-quality hay and let grass pastures recover and stockpile. Lewandowski said that stockpiled forage was typically of a much better quality. If producers didn’t stockpile pastures, the recommendation to feed poor quality first still makes sense.

“Feed that poorer-quality hay now and through the early- to mid-gestation phase in cattle,” he explained. “That early hay will not be adequate nutrition for late-gestation needs of the cow. You don’t want to depend on that hay in the late winter and early next spring.”

Another recommendation producers could consider is grinding poor quality forages.

Based on research conducted by Francis Fluharty, an animal nutritionist at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Lewandowski said grinding poor-quality forage results in increased forage digestibility and increased forage intake. The disadvantage of this recommendation is that a tub grinder is required, a potentially costly piece of equipment.  Lewandowski suggested that several neighbors might consider working together to make such a purchase.

Finally, Lewandowski said pasture management is still critically important heading into mid- to late November.

“We’re still probably not at that point where grass growth has really quit yet, so we caution producers not to overgraze at this point in the year,” he said. “Once we get a few hard frosts, then we can start grazing a little more heavily over the winter and not be concerned with leaf residual area.”

For those using stockpiled forages, or farmers who planted winter wheat or oats for grazing, he also suggested strip grazing to get better utilization, and to consider more intensive rotations to limit animals’ potential for overgrazing.

If producers have questions about Extension recommendations for maximizing livestock performance in the face of poor-quality forage this winter, contact a member of the OSU Extension Beef Team.


Andy Vance
Rory Lewandowski