Feeding Hay Early in 2023

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Hay bales in a field

The lack of rain during the fall of 2023 has resulted in early hay feeding for many livestock producers, up to 6 weeks ahead of schedule. This not only affects the hay inventory for winter but also cuts into potential profits by increasing feeding costs. If we had a crystal ball beforehand, we could have planned by fall-fertilizing, weaning early, purchasing hay while costs were lower, or culling out livestock.

Here we are in the middle of fall. What can we do to reduce hay consumption?

Inventory Your Hay:

  •    Know what you need to finish out the year.
  •    Plan on 180 days of hay feeding.
  •    Determine the number of head of livestock you have.
  •    Cows need about 2.4% of their body weight.
  •    Sheep and goats require about 4% of their body weight.
  •    Stockers need 3-3.5% of their body weight.
  •    Consider how much your bales weigh.
  •    4×4 Dry Hay weighs approximately 580 lbs.
  •    4×5 Dry Hay weighs around 980 lbs.
  •    5×5 Dry Hay weighs approximately 880 lbs.

These figures are based on past research and provide you with a rough estimate to start with. Please note that the weight may vary based on factors like the type of baler, the tightness/density of the bale, and whether it’s 1st or 2nd cutting of hay, but it won’t vary by more than 300 pounds.

How can you use this information?

For example, let’s consider a farm with 20 head of cattle, each weighing 1,100 lbs, and needing 2.4% of their body weight in hay for 180 days, with 4×5 bales weighing 980 lbs.

1,100 lbs x 0.024 body weight = 26.4 lbs of hay per cow needed

20 cows x 26.4 lbs = 528 lbs needed per day for 20 cows

528 lbs x 180 days = 95,040 lbs needed for the herd for the winter

95,040 lbs needed / 980 lbs per 4×5 bale = 97 bales of hay needed

Please keep in mind that this calculation does not account for waste, the impact of cold or wet weather, hay loss due to improper storage, and other variables.

Other strategies to reduce hay consumption:

  • Pregnancy check females and cull those that did not get bred.
  • Minimize hay waste (typically, livestock waste about 10% of the bale). Consider ways to feed hay on your farm to reduce waste.
  • Test your hay for nutrient content and supplement with grain to address any deficiencies.
  • Consider moving calves, kids, and lambs early by increasing their grain ration and preparing them for sale.

These measures can help you better manage your hay resources and reduce costs during this challenging period of low rainfall.