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Incorporating Rain-Damaged Hay into Winter Beef Cow Rations

Posted 10/5/2009

Rain-Damaged Hay: Part 3

The authors cannot overstate the importance of analyzing the nutrient quality of hay, especially when considering purchasing or incorporating rain-damaged hay into your winter feeding rations. Knowing forage quality allows us to balance least cost rations for animals of various ages and groups of animals in various biological cycles of production. Additionally, we can determine what supplements or the quality of hay needed to round out the total ration. If supplementation is accomplished through least cost analysis of the feedstuffs, you may reduce cost, and increase performance and profitability.

Feed analysis will also reveal which groups of animals should (or should not) receive the lower quality feeds. For example, hay that has been damaged by excessive precipitation may produce mold. Moldy hay can be toxic, depending upon the type of mold, and has usually lost most of its nutritional value. Moldy feeds may make cattle go off feed and/or become depressed and occasionally, can cause abortions and death. Inhalation of certain molds can also cause respiratory disease. Older cattle have a higher tolerance to molds than younger cattle so obviously eliminating the feeding of moldy hays to younger stock and minimizing the amount of moldy hay fed at one feeding will lessen the risk.

According to research done at the University of Tennessee, (Feeding Moldy Hay to Beef Cattle, James B. Neel, Professor, Department of Animal Science), the effect of the moldy hay can be reduced by feeding a higher quality hay and grain or commercial supplement. Severely moldy hay should be diluted to no more than 30 percent of the ration in order to reduce the risk of mycotoxicosis and reduced performance. Hay with limited heat damage and mold should be diluted to 40 percent to 60 percent of the total ration. Do not force cattle to consume moldy hay without other forage being available.

In the absence of a forage analysis, assume that the quality is poor and feed only to mature animals. Try to avoid feeding low quality hay to weaned calves, lactating cows and cows during late pregnancy. Even with these precautions, a nutritional supplement will probably be necessary when feeding rain-damaged or over mature hay.

Nutritional supplements come in all shapes and sizes and range from commercially produced tubs, blocks, or pellets, to natural feedstuffs known to be relatively high in protein or energy such as high quality hay, soybean meal or corn. Choosing which type is best for your operation will vary according to individual circumstances. In many cases a variety of supplement products will best meet your cattle’s needs.

Remember, not all feed ingredients are equal in nutrient value or price. Therefore, get your hay analyzed so you know what you are dealing with. Use this information to your economic benefit to determine the best value that meets your operational and livestock’s needs. For more information on comparing feed ingredients utilize the interactive spreadsheet developed by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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