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Planning crucial for winter feed

Published on 11 October, 2007, Last updated at 05:54 GMT
By Gary Tilghman

This year has been one for the record books. The shortage of hay will cause this winter to be a real challenge for our local area cow-calf producers. However, this challenge can be met by careful planning now and avoiding bad decisions.

Dr. Roy Burris, UK Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, has provided me with some valuable considerations that he has concerning this production challenge. He first raises a question on two very popular options currently on the table by many of our producers. These options are (1) paying too much for poor quality roughage, and (2) liquidating good cow herds that have been developed over years.

The present situation has producers scrambling to purchase anything that can be loosely described as “hay.” Whenever roughage is costing as much as concentrate feeds (corn, soyhulls, etc.), you should question why you would buy the feed with less nutritive value.

Why would you pay $60 (for example) for a roll of grass hay that may not weigh over 1,000 lbs. That would be about $120/ton for a feed that has only about half the value of most concentrates. Low quality hay will need supplementation anyway. If the price of concentrate feeds keeps increasing, corn may become our most economical option as a supplemental feed. However, protein supplementation will be necessary.

We seem to think that we have to give the cows all the hay they will consume. But is this really true? Maybe we have enough hay and just need to supplement for best performance. How much hay must a cow really have? It is not 20 to 30 pounds daily but rather enough to keep their rumen healthy; in other words about 5 to 10 lb. of long stem hay will do just fine, as long as it is properly supplemented to meet the animal’s nutritional requirements. We can adjust to the hay shortage by limit feeding hay and spending our feed dollars on concentrates like energy and protein supplements. Also, don’t forget to maintain proper mineral supplementation to fit the system, as well.

Feeding cows 20-30 lb. of hay from CRP land or corn stalks will require supplementation to keep cows in decent body condition. This feed is especially low in protein. Feeding low protein diets (<10 percent crude protein) can result in weak calves at birth. Cows in poor body condition will also have less immunoglobulins in their colostrum (first) milk which makes their calves susceptible to diseases. Finally, cows which come out of the winter in poor body condition will not rebreed as well as those with a body condition score of five.

Wintering costs will certainly be higher than usual this year. No matter what we choose to feed, we must balance the diet for energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. It’s a matter of “pay now or pay later.”

Some producers are even opting to liquidate their herds. This is a drastic decision in Dr. Burris’ opinion. It may be okay for someone considering retiring and getting out of the business. However, as a temporary solution, it overlooks several problems, the biggest of which is abandoning your genetic progress which was made over several years. It is not likely that you can go out next year and buy a good herd of cattle with no health and management concerns.

This may be a good time to do some “down-sizing” or “right-sizing” though. Cow prices are holding up so we should consider some culling which is a normal fall activity anyway. Your cow herd should be pregnancy tested so that open cows can be eliminated prior to winter feeding. Poor-producers, aged or unsound cows should also be culled. You can then focus on keeping the remaining “base cow herd” in good condition. Calculate the amount of feed that you need to purchase and make those purchases now. Don’t wait until February to adjust. Feed will likely be higher at that time. Maybe we can come through these tough times with an even better herd. That can be our goal.

Winter Feeding Meeting Set

To further the discussion and provide more answers to your winter feeding needs for cattle, we, the UK Cooperative Extension Service, have scheduled a meeting to be at the Farmers Livestock Market sales arena, on Highway 68-80, west of Glasgow, on Monday evening, Oct. 29. It will begin with a light supper prepared by the Barren County Cattlemen’s Association at 6 p.m.

Dr. Roy Burris and Kevin Laurant, UK Extension Beef Cattle Specialists, have been invited to be our guest speakers and will further discuss winter feeding options for your consideration.

This topic is a very hot topic to all of our producers and these specialists should be able to provide some extremely valuable information to help you make feeding decisions for this winter.

Mark you calendar and plan to attend this important meeting on Oct. 29 about winter feeding and coping with the situation you are now in. If you plan to attend, please call the Barren County Extension Office at 651-3818 to let us know.

We appreciate Lyon Hutcherson and his staff at Farmers Livestock Market for providing this large area for our meeting. We anticipate a big crowd and look forward to presenting this information to you, so plan now to attend.


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