It seems counterintuitive that you might need to consider a strategy to stretch your hay supply this winter considering all the moisture we have had recently, but a lot of hay was fed early this past summer and not much made since then.

My colleague in east Texas, where the dry spell was more severe, recently wrote two bulletins about doing just that. Jason Banta, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Beef Cattle Specialist in Overton, sent them to me, and for some of you, they will be worth reading and following. The two bulletins (one covers dry cows and the other wet cows) discuss the nutritional needs based on feeding very low-quality hay (5 percent crude protein, CP, and 45 percent total digestible nutrients, TDN).

Another former colleague of mine, Rick Machen, often said that you can feed “crappy,” i.e. low-quality, hay; you just need to have it tested to know how “crappy” it is.

The dry cow requirements are based on a 1,350-pound cow in late gestation with a body condition score of 5 (no ribs showing) with the goal of maintaining that BCS while reducing hay use (no ad lib feeding). The cows will be allowed either 10 or 20 pounds of hay, and then supplemental feed is used to balance the ration. Banta developed four supplemental feeding programs using only 10 pounds of hay and four where 20 pounds of hay is fed.

The four supplementation programs using only 10 pounds of hay require either:

  • 10 pounds of whole corn and 2.4 pounds of soybean meal (SBM),
  • 7 pounds of soybean hull pellets and 7 pounds of corn gluten feed pellets,
  • 14.5 pounds of 12 percent CP breeder cubes, no non-protein nitrogen or urea or
  • 6 pounds of whole cottonseed, 4.75 pounds of corn and 1.25 pounds of cottonseed meal.

If 20 pounds of hay are fed, then the amounts are reduced to:

  • 6 pounds of corn and
  • 2.2 pounds of SBM,
  • 5 pounds each of soybean hull pellets and corn gluten feed pellets,
  • 9.5 pounds of 20 percent CP (not 12 percent) cubes or
  • 6 pounds of WCS and 1.5 pounds CSM.

You can see that the hay, even though it is poor-quality, does reduce the need for (and cost of) supplemental feed, but you must know its nutritional value.

Banta also developed a similar set of rations for wet cows (calves less than 100 days of age) but using 12 (instead of 10) and 20 pounds of hay. As you well know, the supplement requirements are much higher for wet cows, and some products, such as the 12 percent CP range cubes, aren’t included since they don’t provide enough protein. My own personal favorites, whole cottonseed and cottonseed meal, aren’t included because they both contain gossypol and Banta is concerned it may affect calves without a functioning rumen (it can be toxic to monogastrics).

Banta also recommends a high- (15 percent or higher) calcium and low- (7 percent or less) phosphorus mineral-free choice for all cows. In addition to the rations, he explains how and why they were developed, including taking into account the balance between protein digested in the rumen and protein that is digested in the abomasum or small intestine (called undigested or “bypass” protein) and precautions on feeding (including the fact that cows eating only 10 pounds of hay will act hungry, but in fact all their nutritional needs are met).

Both bulletins are easily accessed at beef.tamu.edu. Click on the “Publications” tab and then click on the Nutrition section. Both are at the top of the list. Check them out. If you have any problems, contact me and I’ll send them to you.

Joe C. Paschal is a livestock specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Corpus Christi. Contact him at j-paschal@tamu.edu or 361-265-9203.

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