We have run quite a few samples of hay to test forage quality these last few weeks and had many questions about supplementation. We were originally concerned about nitrate levels with end of season drought stress. However, we have not found any toxic nitrate levels, but have observed some low quality hay. Here is some information from Effingham County Ag Agent Sam Ingram:
Like many of us, annual and perennial grasses are anxiously awaiting warmer temperatures and more sunshine in the day. But as of now we are still waiting, and this means our beef cattle producers are still feeding hay from last season which may be low in quality. This time of year there are calves on the ground nursing and bulls in the pasture breeding brood cows. With the demand set high for the brood cows, good nutrition is essential during this period. If a producer is feeding lower quality hay from last year, extra supplementation may be needed. Dr. Jacob Segers and Dr. Lawton Stewart developed a simple sheet to help producers decide if supplementation is needed in addition to their hay. A forage sample should be taken from your hay to determine the quality, a simple “estimation” is not enough to accurately supplement for the cattle.
The table above shows that majority of our cows can maintain body weight and a calf on their side with average forage. But as our quality starts to drop and our total digestible nutrients (TDN) falls below 50%, we need to look at supplementation. Those disgetible nutrients can be traced back to maturity of the grass and when it was cut. The last cutting of hay tends to be the lowest quality and that last cutting is now what most producers are feeding. If a producer wants to increase their quality, fertility is a great place to start but also cutting the forage at the right time will maintain good quality.