Avoiding Forage Shortages

John F. Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator (originally published in The Ohio Farmer on-line)

Any successful beef producer understands the importance of effective management of grazed and harvested forages. Cow-calf producers, stocker operators, and feedlot managers share a common need for plentiful supplies of high quality forages for the entire year. Unfortunately, environmental factors can make the availability of consistent supplies available from year to year.

USDA NASS reported hay stocks on Ohio farms on May 1, 2018 were 280,000 tons, down 33% from this time last year. All hay stored on United States farms May 1, 2018 was down 36 percent from a year ago. As the summer months move along, producers have made one or more cuttings of hay to accumulate supplies for the winter of 2018-2019. This year’s harvest and carryover stocks from the previous winter will determine the forage management strategies that will be necessary to carry supplies through to the 2019 production season.

If producers are concerned that hay supplies will be tight to carry them through to the next growing season, they should consider a variety of strategies to supplement or preserve existing supplies. Here are a few management decisions to consider to insure adequate forage supplies to reach the 2019 growing season.

1. Old Faithful
Stockpiling is the time-tested method to take advantage of the late summer-fall growing conditions to obtain high-quality pasture for fall and early winter grazing. Consider grasses that will be responsive to nitrogen and hold their quality into the winter. Historically, fescue has been the most commonly used grass in this region for stockpiling. Kentucky bluegrass and orchardgrass are other common grasses used for stockpiling.

Stockpiling should typically begin by early to mid-August. Start by removing cattle from the pasture or clip the pasture so that 3-4 inches of forage remain. Topdressing 50 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre in mid-August can generate significant amounts of extra forage production. Kentucky research has shown an increase of 20 – 25 pounds of dry matter from Kentucky bluegrass and fescue for each pound of nitrogen applied. Grazing of stockpiled forages can begin in late fall to early winter depending on weather conditions.

2. Plant a Winter Annual
Winter varieties of wheat, triticale, cereal rye or ryegrass can be planted in the fall. Best results are usually obtained if planting is completed by early October. Winter small grain cereals commonly yield about 2 to 3 tons per acre. They offer the potential for light grazing (removing no more than half of the forage) in late fall – early winter. The bulk of the forage produced can be harvested through grazing in late winter – early spring. Producers can also utilize mechanical harvest as weather conditions allow. Harvesting the forage as baled silage as opposed to dry hay will insure a higher quality forage for feeding.

3. Secure Supplies Early
If you need to purchase extra hay, do so as early as possible. Hay prices will be more economical when purchased outside of the normal winter feeding season. If possible, purchase hay by weight and not by the bale to insure you are getting true value for your purchase. Not all hay is created equal so request a nutrient analysis of the hay being purchased in order to match the nutritional needs of the targeted production group.

4. Waste Not, Want Not
When selecting the storage location for all cuttings of hay this season, think about how the hay will be fed next winter. Arrange the accessibility of the different types and cuttings of hay based on the various production groups and calving season of your herd. Account for potential weather challenges and the probable location where animals will be fed next winter. Make sure to document location of the different types, cuttings, and quality of hay being stored. Check out this video on proper hay storage techniques that would minimize storage losses located at the OSU Extension Beef Team’s YouTube Channel at: https://youtu.be/8nF65KQzx7k

5. Eliminate the “Freeloaders”
Determining the pregnancy status of beef cattle continues to be one of the most underutilized yet relatively easy to implement management practices available to beef producers. Today, there are three basic technologies available to the producer for pregnancy checking: traditional palpation, ultrasound, and blood testing. The most obvious reason for pregnancy checking is to identify non-pregnant or open females for sale as a means to reduce feed expenses. Keep in mind that once a female is diagnosed open, it will be a minimum of approximately 300 days before this female will deliver a calf and another 6-8 months before you can sell a calf. This is simply too long of a period to accumulate expenses without the female providing the opportunity for income. If cows are not being productive for you, they need to be replaced.