Dr. Larry Redmon, Associate Department Head and Extension Program Leader for Soil and Crop Sciences, discussed impacts on hay quality at the recent O.D. Butler Forage Field Day at the Camp Cooley Ranch in Franklin, Texas.
“The longer you can keep your cattle grazing in the winter, the more cost effective your operation is going to be,” stated Redmon. “Hay is a very expensive way to overwinter cattle.”
He explained that in years with adequate rainfall, many producers could get their cattle through the winter with very little hay by using management tools such as stockpiled forages, winter annuals, and appropriate stocking rates.
“Hay should be a tactical solution to a short term problem,” Redmon stated.
He went on to explain that producers should always have an emergency supply of hay in the barn for times of drought or extreme temperatures when grazing is not an option.
The key words, according to Redmon, are “in the barn”. If a barn is not possible, then a hay tarp should be used. Hay should be stacked in a pyramid, with air channels to deter condensation. He stressed that as long as the barn is built where there will be no standing water, it does not need sides or a floor – just a roof. A pole barn with adequate drainage is all that is required.
Building a barn requires a financial investment, but Redmon stresses that it is a good investment to make. One which will save a producer a lot of money in the long run.
“We have been convinced by marketing that since the invention of round bales we no longer need to store hay in the barn,” Redmon stated. “But research has proven the value of protecting hay, even round bales.”
He went on to explain that when field-cured hay is placed in the barn, it will equilibrate at about 15% moisture and stabilize – with no further deterioration. The crude protein and digestible energy levels will remain the same as they were at the time of baling.
The same cannot be said for hay stored in the field. Those bales will suffer loss of nutrients as well as lost from waste. Rainwater soaks into the bales decreasing dry matter and nutritional value. Net wrap will reduce the amount of damage by about 10%, but loss and waste will still occur.
“A good storage facility will save you money,” Redmon said. “A hay barn will pay for itself in four to six years.”
According to Redmon, additional savings can be realized by reducing the amount of uneaten hay. Feeding hay in a hay ring will reduce waste. Those with an enclosed bottom will reduce the amount wasted substantially more.
Unrolling a bale to feed is also an economic option, provided you only roll out what they will consume in one day. This “banquet table” can eliminate the boss cow syndrome and prevent the muddy wallows which may form around the hay rings.