Just what kind of hay did you buy this year?

Yes, 2018 was the year road ditches and low quality, weedy pastures were baled in hopes of making a profit on tonnage.  As most of us know the lack of hay greatly increased the price forcing many to face two choices; buy overpriced hay and hold cows (not a good choice) or sell down the herd to make do with what you have (not a good choice either). Many of us relying on purchased hay to cover our needs were at a loss; there just wasn’t a lot out there to buy.  Broomsedge, low quality fescue, brambles, and other types of weeds have been easily seen in many of the bales I have inspected thus far.  

So, just how much damage to your operation will occur this year due to our current situation?

As we look at what is going on three things come to mind.  All Bad.

 First, the quality issue. If you are not testing your hay you do not know if your cows are getting what they need to do what you want.  Cows in second period or later are growing/ developing your next year’s calf crop, they may need help.  Not only that they are trying to cope with the cold weather and the winter conditions we are now facing.  If you are fall calving and short on winter pasture, will the low quality hay have enough in it to keep you cows milk production where it needs to be, allowing you to wean off large calves in the spring?

Second is the purity issue.  Just what kind of and how many weed seeds are you bringing into your operation?   Unrolling hay all over you place, having the cattle sort thru it looking for the good and laying on the rest, opens up an opportunity for seeds to be walked in by your cattle. What happens if the weed seeds are perennials?  What about Johnsongrass ??  

Third, killer cow prices.  I read an article recently stating there just isn’t enough hooks available to hang them on thus reducing prices. Another hit.

So now what??  We cannot do much about the market but we can improve on our management.  Sharpen your pencil and look for solutions.  Feeding a reasonably priced grain/ by-product mix to offset quality and often quantity issues.  Purchasing feed in bulk will help lower the cost as well.  Test your hay and create a least cost ration meeting the needs of your cattle in their proper stage of development.  Do not over feed to meet your needs.  Feed your hay in one location/paddock to confine the weed seeds to a smaller area, which in turn, will make it easier to clean up in the future. Look at early weaning of calves to reduce the needs of your cows.  Use your stockpiled pasture carefully as to not waste precious forage.  Fence off smaller areas, areas large enough feed for 2 to 3 days at a time, and then move the electric wire again. 

Just don’t panic.  Think it through, plan your next step, and look for a good spring next year.

Source: Terry Halleran, MU Extension Agronomy Specialist