Hay Feeding Strategies
Spring Hay Feeding
I wanted to send out a Timely Tips to encourage everyone to feed hay a little longer in the spring to let the grass get a good start. Spring grass is washy with high water content and some hay fed along with it helps to slow the rate of passage, improving digestibility. Also, allowing the grass to get a good start gives you a buffer of extra grass through the year. Typically, I will feed hay into early April.
One Location feeding.
The idea here is to reduce impacts on the pasture which is understandable but not a good plan for profit. The manure value is $20/1000 lb. roll of hay and the cost of reseeding an acre is less than $50/ac, so it’s ideal to feed hay on your most infertile ground. The manure is worth 10 x more than the cost of reseeding the small area impacted by feeding hay across a pasture.
Fenceline feeders are an improvement on one-location feeding because the tractor doesn’t have to enter the field, creating tracks and compacting it. However, it is still a method of one-site feeding, which has some downfalls.
If one hay feeding site is used, choose that site wisely. It should be 300’ or more from drainage ways and other water areas, away from sinks, ditches, and be on a slope of 5% or less. If feeding is done near sensitive areas, it’s potentially an environmental disaster and a contributor to poor water quality and disease. If animals spend their days in mud their energy needs are increased as much as 2x.
These areas need to be sown in something like bermudagrass or tall fescue to reduce weeds and take advantage of nutrients.
Accumulated waste should be gathered and ideally covered by a roof until it is spread on the land. If you have a pad, concrete is the easiest to scrape. If using a gravel pad, you should leave a couple of inches of manure on the pad to keep from scraping up gravel and spreading it on fields. Since the cost of spreading usually equals the value of the manure, isn’t a great value at this point and we call it waste. Since most of the nitrogen comes from the urine, you’ll lose it to leaching if the manure is left in one place.
I prefer to feed hay in the fall when I can grow grass this allows me to feed much less hay. It is possible to grow as much as five times the grass then hay fed in the fall but there are many variables to consider.
Decent soil fertility and properly managed grazing heights will grow more grass. Fall hay feeding can dramatically improve fields with weed problems and low fertility. Ideally, allow sacrifice areas substantial recovery time before winter and you’ll see quick green-ups.
The minimum recommended grazing height for cool-season grasses, such as tall fescue, is 4” during the growing season. I don’t like to see it taken below 2” in the winter.
Bale Grazing. There are many different ways to do bale grazing. It’s important to place the bales in the field when the soil is dry or frozen and place the bales strategically to accomplish the desired nutrient distribution. The cows will cycle 80 to 90 percent of the hay back onto the pasture as nutrients therefore, if you want to increase fertility, you may want to place the rolls as close together as 30’ apart, which is equivalent to 24 tons of hay biomass/ac. If you are looking to maintain fertility, place the rolls approximately 80’ apart which equals about 3.5 tons of hay/ac.
Ideally, stockpiled grass would be available along with hay which would be rationed with a temporary wire fence like polywire. You would paddock off an estimated amount of hay needed for 3 days or less. Example: 30 cows weighing 1200 pounds x 0.03 (percent of body wt. consumed per day) x 3 days = 3240 pounds. So, provide them access to 3 rolls. If the available grass is substantial, reduce the quantity of hay accordingly. Good grass is typically about 300 lb/acre inch. However, only approximately 50% is consumed. Example: 8” grass x 300 lb/ac. In. x 0.50 (grazing efficiency) = 1200 lb, so reduce hay feeding by about one roll/day for every acre of grazing when available grass is substantial.
Hay can be placed behind a high hot wire providing calves or other stock the ability to forward-graze to more or better hay.
The biggest advantage to bale grazing is labor savings over unrolling hay.
Unrolling hay. I like this method best but to do it right, it’s labor-intensive. It really should be done once or twice a day, unrolling half of the animals’ needs in the morning and the other half in the afternoon to simulate grazing. They need to clean up most of the hay before feeding again. All hay isn’t equal so don’t make them clean up junk hay.
One big advantage to unrolling hay is that all animals are on a more equal playing field, everyone having more access to hay. Hay rings can limit access and animals at the bottom of the pecking order, like young calves and sheep, won’t have equal access to the hay in a ring. Unrolling hay has great strategic manure placement.
Feeding in rings versus not using rings. This may be controversial but there’s no doubt that although rings will conserve hay, the mud-out is much worse with a ring than without it. My experience is if you have enough stock to clean up the hay in a day or less the hay waste is minimal but if the hay is there for multiple days a ring is going to be your best bet.
Remember, grazing is half the cost of hay. If you feed 3- 1000 lb rolls a day and hay cost is $40/roll, every day you graze instead of feeding hay will save you $120 since the nutrients (N-P-K) in those three rolls are worth about $60.
The next Timely Tips will cover different grazing strategies.
Wishing you the best, if you have questions, concerns, or rebuttals about anything I have presented respond to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are many ways to accomplish regenerative grazing.