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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Producers Facing Hay Shortage, But Forage Options Aplenty

June 27, 2007

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio producers may be facing a hay shortage this season due to dry conditions, but other forage and grazing alternatives exist to feed livestock.

Steve Boyles, an Ohio State University Extension livestock specialist, said that when choosing other forage options, feeding limit and nutritional content guidelines should be adhered to ensure that livestock remain healthy and meet market standards.

"Any time you change feeds with ruminant animals, you should do so gradually so the digestive system can adjust to the new feed," said Boyles. "If you don't, the livestock might run into some digestive problems."

Although alfalfa has the capacity to continue growth under dry conditions, the late spring cold spell impacted stands, killing off plants and forcing re-growth. As a result, the first cutting turned out to be much smaller than producers anticipated.

Marc Sulc, an OSU Extension forage specialist, said that alfalfa still has the ability to bounce back as a viable forage crop, but harvest timing is the key to ensure plant health and longevity.

"Growers should allow at least a 35-day interval from the first harvest when the alfalfa is close to full-bloom stage," said Sulc. "Once the alfalfa is well into bloom stage and there is enough harvestable forage to economically justify a hay cutting, then go ahead and harvest it. The forage will probably be higher in quality than normal growth in full bloom because the stems are short and fine."

In situations where alfalfa cannot fulfill livestock feeding requirements, or hay prices may be too high due to the crop shortage, several forage options step up as viable alternatives:

• Supplementing hay with corn grain and a commercial supplement. Even with the current high corn prices, corn grain remains one of the more economically harvested feeds per unit of digestible energy available to cattle producers in Ohio. Hay has only about half the energy value as corn grain. Ohio State University research has found that a 1,300 pound cow's requirements can be met by feeding 12 pounds of whole-shelled corn, 2 pounds of commercial supplement, and 3 to 4 pounds of hay. Boyles said that it's important to limit corn grain feed to livestock. "Overfeeding livestock with corn is just giving them more energy than they need and can lead to bloating," he said. "Give livestock enough corn only to meet their nutrient requirements."

• Soybean hulls and other digestable fibers. The recommended feeding limit is 4 to 5 pounds per day of pelleted soybean hulls, but higher levels can be fed.

• Brewer's grains, which are typically fed to livestock in a wet form. "Feeding requirements follow the same principles as silage," said Boyles. "Information about brewer's grains and other feeds, such as gluten feed, can be obtained by contacting feed companies."

• Distillers grains. A byproduct of ethanol production, distillers grains are rapidly becoming an alternative feed. "For some of Ohio's smaller producers, dry distillers grain may be easier to handle, as opposed to wet distillers grain," said Boyles. "Limiting distillers grain in the diet is highly recommended because of the fat and sulphur levels and the calcium/phosphorus ratio, which affects mineral content."

Apart from switching forage products or incorporating other forages into a hay diet, livestock producers can also make adjustments to grazing management.

"With the shortage of hay, there might be a tendency to overgraze pastureland," said Boyles. "As a result, the grass will take longer to recover and could impact fall forage supplies. To overcome this, rotational grazing is an option."

Rotational grazing is a management practice that involves periodic rotation of livestock from one paddock to the next, preventing overgrazing while encouraging pasture re-growth.

For more information on livestock forage options, log on to OSU Extension's Beef Team Web site at The Web site provides links to fact sheets on managing livestock under drought conditions by clicking on "Drought '07."

Candace Pollock
Steve Boyles