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New Year’s Predictions for Hay Prices

Agricultural markets are notoriously difficult to predict. A sudden change in weather or the implementation of some new economic policy may send ripples that affect the price of a variety of agricultural products, among them hay. Read more to know about new year''s predictions for hay prices.

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How to Survive a Temporary Shortage of Quality Hay

Hay is a great way to feed livestock, but sometimes conditions outside of your control might result in a shortage of quality hay. Lack of precipitation or particularly cold winters may limit your access to good hay, so it is important to understand what alternatives exist for feed. Read more to know how to survive a temporary shortage of quality hay.

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Forage Crops Unfairly Losing Ground in the Ag Industry

Forage crops promote clean air and water as well as reduce erosion and flooding. Despite this, most people are unaware of the importance of these crops. For example, domestic food security is enhanced by perennial forages grow on land that cannot support row crops. Read more to know about forage crops unfairly ground in the ag industry.

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Clovers Key to Nitrogen-Rich Pastures

Savvy forage producers know that adding legumes to grass pastures and hayfields can go a long way toward decreasing the need for nitrogen fertilizer. While there are a variety of benefits to planting clovers, many producers are surprised to learn that making nitrogen isn’t one of them. Read more to know about clovers key to nitrogen-rich pastures

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Fermentation and Preservation of Feed

Fermented feeds can be stored for years. The process of fermentation and preservation is nothing new to farmers and has been going on for thousands of years. Read more to know about fermentation and preservation of feed.

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High-Quality Hay Comes Down to a Few Factors

Hay is one of the most popular and widely used feed for livestock. While some may argue that quantity trumps quality when it comes to hay, that is rarely the case. Instead, quality hay is critical for happy and healthy livestock which translates into profitability for producers.


However, there are a number of factors that go into quality hay, including superior management practices and an attention to detail by producers. But which factors are the most important? Ask 100 hay producers and you are likely to get 100 different answers. What follows, however, is a list of the five most important factors necessary for the production of high-quality hay, according to experts in the hay industry.


  1. Maturity of the Plant. Forage quality comes down to the maturity of the plant at the time of the harvest. While many hay producers will forgo forage for yield, doing so is a detriment to animal performance.
  2. Forage Species. It is critical to use the highest quality species that will grow and thrive in your geographical region and environment. While the options are endless for what you can grow, the options for what you should grow are far less.
  3. Storage. Hay bales stored outdoors with no protection will reduce hay quality and quantity—significantly. Moisture penetration does a number on hay bales and leads directly to lost feed.
  4. Rain while Curing. Rain causes carbohydrates to seep out of the forage tissue. This causes a rise in the concentration of fiber while digestibility and dry matter intake are lowered. The worst damage occurs when rain falls on forage that is in the latter stages of the wilting process.
  5. Moisture while Baling. Hay baled when it is too wet causes excessive heating. While the worst scenario is spontaneous combustion, other issues can occur, as well. Heated hay is likely to have high concentrations of heat-damaged, undigestible protein. While this protein is palatable to livestock, it has little nutritional value. Baling hay that has moisture levels of 15 percent or less is ideal.


Hay is one of the most important crops a farmer grows in light of the fact that it keeps livestock growing. Therefore, it is critical to grow high-quality hay that livestock will be appetizing and provide for the nutritional needs of livestock.


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Can Hay Be Too High of Quality?
It is common sense that livestock shouldn’t be fed moldy or otherwise low-quality hay. However, is it possible to feed livestock hay that is too high quality? In general, feeding livestock the highest quality hay will not result in any adverse health effects, but it may not always be the most efficient approach. For that reason, there are some rules to follow when it comes to deciding which hay to use for feeding.
Different livestock have different requirements. For instance, cows that are lactating have different protein needs than cows that are not. A pregnant cow generally does not need the highest quality hay, whereas cows that are lactating in order to feed their calves demand more nutrients. Feeding the same hay to every cow, regardless of whether they are pregnant, lactating or none of these things, could wind up being a costly practice. Those cows with lower nutritional needs will end up excreting excess nutrients that other cows need. 
There are some ways to prevent this conundrum that do not involve feeding bad hay to livestock that do not require the same volume of nutrients as others. For one, limiting the amount of access livestock have to high-quality hay can decrease the overall rate of consumption across the board. This allows all livestock access to high-quality hay, but not so much that it will exceed any animal’s nutritional needs. From there, supplements can be added to the diet of any livestock whose nutritional needs are particularly high. 
If the main concern is that livestock are wasting the nutrients in high-quality hay, then it can be beneficial to provide an assortment of high- and mid-quality hay where mid-quality hay outnumbers high-quality hay. This may seem counterintuitive, but the livestock will tend to eat the lower-quality hay after consuming the higher-quality hay, which will improve how well the livestock digest the mid-quality hay. Thus, they will not overeat high-quality hay and waste the nutrients found in it, and the mid-quality hay’s nutrients will be more efficiently digested. Ultimately, this is beneficial to livestock regardless of their nutritional demands.
Finally, it is possible to restrict access to hay in such a way, for example the use of a round bale feeder, that only after livestock finish a bale of hay will they be allowed access to another. The more voracious animals will end up with access to the most hay, and it is typically the livestock that eat the most hay that require the most nutrients. So while it may be true that feeding livestock is not as simple as giving all livestock equal access to the best hay, there are simple solutions to this problem.
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Hay Moisture Testers Accurately Determine Moisture Content

Is your hay too moist? Not moist enough? For years, the touch test has been how most hay producers have gaged the state of their hay. The problem is that the touch test is extremely subjective.

Trying to determine a specific moisture content is nearly impossible using the touch test. Even when no more water can be squeezed out of hay when you wring it out, the moisture content of that hay can still be greater than 50 percent.

Stored wet hay also is a factor since microbes can go wild, increase temperatures and lead to spontaneous combustion. The result? Hay storage building fires. Put up hay too dry and nutrient quality and palatability suffer because leaves break off.

So, what’s a hay producer to do? Enter hay moisture testers. For a relatively small amount of money, storage building fires can be a thing of the past.

Moisture testers help producers put up hay in the correct ranges—lower than 18 percent for small square bales and less than 16 percent for large round hay bales. Large square bales typically range from 12 to 16 percent. When hay is stored at these moisture levels, quality is maintained while moisture levels help to prevent spontaneous combustion.

There are a number of hay moisture testers to choose from so no matter what your budget, you can find one. The less expensive models quickly check hay in the windrows, while the pricey models are run from stationary units. Still others use infra-red meters. There are a variety of hand held and portable testers, as well.

Pistol-grip testers work best if you are testing multiple bales at one time since you can hold the tester in one hand while checking the reader with the other hand. There also are testers that measure moisture and temperature.

Another option is a baler-mounted tester. This type of tester gives readings every few seconds as hay is baled. The drawback with this type of tester is that the moisture content reading can be off by one or two percent points.

Stationary stainless steel heat-based units give the most accurate moisture readings but samples must be brought to the unit. There are still more sophisticated options to choose from so depending on the level of precision you are looking for, there likely is a tester out there for you.

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Not One Type of Hay is “Best” and Other Hay Myths

Hay is commonly used as livestock feed, but misconceptions about it still persist. These myths range from what type of hay is “best,” if certain types of hay are dangerous and which animals require what types of hay.

First of all, no type of hay is “best.” That is, hay quality is ultimately a matter of proper management and harvesting. Any species or variety of hay, therefore, can be the “best,” but using a certain type of hay is no guarantee when it comes to quality. Additionally, round bales are not inferior. Specifically, they are not more likely to contain botulism. Although round bales are often stored outside, which can expose them to moisture (in which the botulin bacterium thrives), covering bales and exercising common sense in not feeding livestock moldy hay is sufficient to protect livestock from contracting botulism. Likewise, hay quality cannot be distinguished based on color. So merely saying that green hay is superior to brown hay would be inaccurate. Hay must be tested in order to assess its quality, as hay quality does not affect color, nor does color affect quality.

Moreover, rained-on hay can still be fed to livestock. Whether or not hay that has been exposed to rain ought to be fed to livestock should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Usually, if hay has only recently been rained on, there should only be a minimal drop in quality. This does not mean that one should haphazardly ignore any possible repercussions of hay that has been exposed to lots of moisture. It is still key to examine the hay for mold or dust, which are more likely to be present if hay has been exposed to precipitation.

Additionally, horses and cattle do not necessarily require different quality hay. In general, horses digest hay less efficiently than cattle, so cattle will generally respond to lower-quality hay better than horses. However, this should not be taken as a rule of thumb, and cattle should not be given lower-quality hay, no questions asked. One must consider livestock’s workload and current health when it comes to feeding. When it comes to an inactive horse and a lactating cow, the cow will require higher-quality hay, despite what conventional knowledge might dictate. On the other hand, a race horse will need high-quality hay, but a non-pregnant cow will demand lower-quality hay.

There are many misconceptions surrounding hay. It is important to be informed about these misconceptions and to not base one’s feeding habits on false knowledge.


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When to Plant Summer Annual Forage Grasses

The next potential forage stressor is almost upon us and that stressor is summer. Long, hot days impact forage availability all through the grazing season.

While worst-case scenarios don’t always occur, it’s better to be prepared then to be caught off guard. Therefore, to protect perennial forages for long-term stand life, it is sometimes necessary to consider alternative forage options so that our permanent stands are able to rest and recover.

Summer annuals are a great choice when you need a short-term alternative to pastures because these annuals are able to provide quick forage They can be quickly established for high productivity in a short amount of time. Summer annual forage grasses also are extremely drought resistant and heat tolerant, allowing them to provide relatively high-quality forage when necessary.

While it isn’t a good idea to rely on summer annual forage grasses every year, it is nice to have them in your back pocket should the need arise. But how do you know when it is time to exercise this option?

Summer annual forage grasses can be considered in certain situations. For example, when forage supplies are low, and an emergency forage crop is needed. They also can be used to provide a temporary cover in a double-cropping system or as a salvage crop to make use of fertilizer that has been applied to summer row crops that have failed. Finally, summer annual forage grass makes sense to use in an annual rotation forage system.

There are a few things to take into consideration when deciding whether or not it makes good financial sense to use summer annual forage grasses:

  1. What are my forage needs in terms of livestock feed?
  2. What class of animal am I feeding? Dairy almost always justifies the use of summer annuals. If it is an emergency situation, beef cows and calves do, as well. When it comes to beef stockers depend on the price of cattle. Finally, for equine, it depends on need and other available options.
  3. What are current cattle and dairy prices?

Unfortunately, there is always a chance of drought. While spring planting is recommended, that planting can be variable. The benefit of summer annual forage grasses is that it can produce an adequate yield in about six months, even if they are planted later than other crops.

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Why Baled Silage May Work Best in Wet Climates

In regions where it is difficult to dry hay because of wet weather, silage is becoming a popular alternative. This move toward silage began in the Midwest and Northeast where producers have found that the time between rainfalls is shrinking. This is a problem since making dry hay requires about five days of dry weather. Silage, on the other hand, only requires about one day.

The silage making process is easier and more flexible but it also allows you to cut hay when it is at peak quality. Dry hay requires producers to wait until there is a long enough stretch of dry weather which means the quality of hay can suffer. And quality really is the name of the game since it is means better feed efficiency. This feed efficiency means heavier beef cattle and dairy cattle that produce more milk.

There is less leaf loss with silage which allows leaves to hold a greater amount of protein from the plant. Therefore, the wetter the forage, the higher the crude protein content. Silage also is more appealing to cows.

But the benefits of silage don’t stop there. Some agricultural experts report that the silage making process leads to higher yields. Specifically, each day you drive over a field of alfalfa following mowing, about 6 percent yield is lost at the next cutting. Hay left in the field an extra week, then, can lead to a 42 percent yield loss.

Silage can be made with as little as 25 percent moisture content or as much as 70 percent. The key, however, is to get the hay wrapped within 24 hours after mowing. This allows fermentation to occur and the oxygen supply to be cut off.

Bacteria in the wrapped silage eliminates oxygen and this assists in the conversion of starches to sugar, creating lactic acid. Bacteria and lactic acid don’t alter the quality of the forage but do act as a preservative when it is time to use the hay bales as livestock feed. This means that quality changes occur after the wrapping is removed from the silage. That is why it is important to feed the baled silage as soon as the package is opened.

One final note, if you plan to make a great deal of silage, it is in your best interest to make sure that you have to type of hay and forage tools designed for making silage. And with all of its advantages, you may be making more and more of it.


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Forage and Pasture Feeding Issues for Horses

It is a well-known fact that horses have sensitive digestion systems. The good news is that horses will avoid the type of food and plants that that don’t agree with them because they find them distasteful. However, if they can find nothing else to feed on, horses may resign themselves to eating these food and plants.

Horses love to eat pasture and hay, and those are great options. This is especially true for horses that burn a lot of energy. In general, if a forage causes problems with your other livestock, it will probably cause issues with your horses, as well.

If you are wondering what to feed your horses—both high-performing and low-performing—it can be difficult to know what to choose. The following list of forage types that you will want to pay special attention to when feeding your horses because they have been known to cause issues:

Alfalfas: Blister beetle infestation is usually associated with alfalfa hay. The beetles contain a toxin that irritates the lining of the horse’s digestive tract. No level of consumption is safe. Blister beetle infestations are mostly confined to southeastern states.

Clovers: Clovers are often a vital element in a horses’ diet because they provide energy, fiber and protein. They cause problems when mold infects improperly dried clover hay. The health effects of these molds can include slobbers, photosensitivity, and bleeding. In very wet years or high-humidity conditions, it’s a good idea to keep horses out of clover-rich pastures. Further, alsike clover is toxic to horses—causing photosensitivity and liver damage—and should never make up more than 5 percent of feed.

Endophyte-Infected Fescue: Effects of this type of fescue can cause fat necrosis, fescue foot and summer slump. In mares, abortion, lack of milk and prolonged gestation can occur. Endophyte-free tall fescue is not an issue, however.

Molds: Horses are highly susceptible to mold and fungal toxins. Most problems occur when horses eat hay that contains dust and molds. Hay baled at high moistures should always be avoided for this reason.

Nitrates: High concentrations of nitrate in forage can be toxic to animals. They are often found young, fast-growing plants, plats that have been over-fertilized and plants that are stressed.

Sorghums: Never feed horses crops from the sorghum family. In the green growth stage, sorghums can cause cystitis syndrome, a urinary tract disease. Mares fed sorghum crops can abort, and foals can be born with contracted tendons.

Wild Plants: Poisonous weeds can pop up in pastures, so identification is the key. Thorough pasture management will help eradicate most weeds and problem plants. Soil testing and balancing fertility will help, as well.


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Net Wrap and Twine on Hay Bales Can Cause Serious Health Issues for Cattle

Agricultural experts have long touted the benefits of hay feeders for livestock. Reduced hay feeding loss and input costs are two of the most important reasons such feeders come so highly recommended.

As any farmer will tell you, management of input costs is critical to an operation’s bottom line. Management of input can mean the difference between profit or loss. Round hay feeders are especially popular. These types of feeders are affordable, allow a farmer to put out several days feed and prevent hay from being trampled.

While there are several reasons why using a round bale feeder makes good sense, there is one advantage these feeders have over putting out hay bales that many may never have considered. Cattle won’t be tempted to eat the net wrap from around bales. Plastic net wrap also won’t be inadvertently digested by cattle along with hay.

Bored cattle may actually chew on net wrap. Young cattle are at an especially high risk since they are very curious and will chew on just about anything. 

When an animal swallows net wrap from hay bales it can be hard to diagnose. The most common symptoms include weight loss or a slow wasting away. Another symptom would be diarrhea. Net wrap can cause a digestive system blockage which would only allow liquids to make it through. Bloating could also be an issue since bowel movements could be completely disrupted if there is a total impaction. In such cases, cattle may not be able to even burp. All of this will have negative implications on production efficiency and can lead to death.

Net wrap isn’t the only problem, either. Baling twine also can cause issues. About 70 percent of baling twine is typically digested but other types of twine are not. These include biodegradable and plastic twine. When this twine is consumed all of it remains inside the rumen. That’s because these types of twine are only broken down by sunlight. Ground bales cause less problems than round bales but that doesn’t mean they are risk-free.

If it is suspected that cattle have eaten any type of foreign material, it is important to have a large-animal veterinarian examine them as soon as possible.



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Introducing Horses to Spring Pasture

It has been a long winter and many horse owners are ready to turn their horses out to pasture. In order to do what is best for these horses, however, it pays to take things slowly.

It is always best to introduce horses to spring pastures gradually. When pasture reach 6 to 8 inches, you can safely let horses graze for about 15 minutes and then increase in increments of 15 minutes each day until horses graze for a total of about five hours. At this point, continuous grazing can take place.

Experts advise that horses should be fed their normal hay diet in horse feeders before turning them out to pasture and continue that diet until they are grazing unrestricted. This helps to avoid horses taking in pasture grasses too quickly.

So, what is the difference between hay and pasture? Despite the fact that both are considered forage, they are not the same. Dried hay contains much less moisture than fresh pasture. In fact, fresh pasture contains about 70 percent more moisture than dry hay. This is significant since horses are hind-gut, fermenting herbivores that rely—to a great extent—on the microbes in their gastrointestinal track to process forage. Since these microbes are a mix of different organisms, any sudden change may prevent the microbes from adjusting to these new organisms. This would cause many of them to die and others to flourish. The end result being digestive issues and potentially colic.

Laminitis is another issue to be aware of when it comes to introducing horses to spring pasture. The incidence of laminitis rises in the spring and summer when horses and other animals are turned out to pasture. Here’s a brief overview of why the spike in laminitis at this time of year:

Green plants produce simple sugars during photosynthesis. When more sugars than are needed for plant growth and development are produced, the excess is converted into stored carbohydrates. This storage is commonly seen during the rapid growth of spring. In addition, the vegetative tissues of the cool season pasture accumulate fructan in the stem until required by the plant as an energy source. The sum of the simple sugars, fructan, and starch make up the nonstructural carbohydrate (NSC) fraction of the plant. There is evidence of an association between laminitis and intake—especially rapid intake—of NSC.

This process impacts horses in particular since horses are selective grazers that are more likely to find feedstuffs with elevated sugar content especially palatable. As a result, restricting grazing in the early spring can reduce the chance of rapid NSC intake and laminitis.


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How to Improve Existing Pasture Grasses

There are several ways to improve existing pasture grasses. You can renovate a pasture with new grass seeding or with a legume-grass mixture.

With new grass, a seedbed is prepared with primary and secondary tillage as needed. Lime should be incorporated approximately six months before seeding with fertilizer incorporated as necessary during seedbed preparation. A companion crop of oats is sown with a grain drill. The same basic steps are used when using a legume-grass mixture. The only difference is that legume is added into the seeding mixture and nitrogen fertilizer is not used.

Two other options for improving pasture grasses are interseeding and no-till renovation as well as frost seeding. When it comes to interseeding and no-till renovation, weeds are controlled several months before seeding. Lime and fertilizer are applied and one or more seedings of legumes is made in established grass sod with an interseeder. Finally, frost seeding involves one or more legumes being broadcast on established grass. Frost seeding usually takes place in late February or March. Freezing, thawing and early spring rains will provide seed coverage and assist in the establishment of these seeds.

The degree of improvement, of course, will vary depending on factors such as plant species, rainfall and management. In general, unimproved pastures will require at least three acres to support the grazing of a mature cow. If improvements listed above are successful, improved pastures should provide for one cow and calf on about one or two acres.

When it comes to hay production, there are generally two management alternatives. The first is alfalfa-grass seeded with an oat companion crop. In this case, a seedbed is prepared, and fertilizer is used as needed. This usually takes place in early spring. To achieve the best results, lime should be incorporated into the seedbed six months before seeding. Grass and legume seed should be sown shallower than oats and then soil should be firmed.

Oats are usually used harvested as grain and forage. The sown forage seedlings develop faster when oats are removed earlier as hay or silage. In most cases, a single harvest of the new hay meadow can be taken in late summer of the first year. Grass-legume seedings can be made in late August without a companion crop if soil moisture and other conditions permit.

Alfalfa spring-seeded with a pre-plant herbicide will establish quickly. A fine, firm seedbed is prepared, and the herbicide is incorporated before seeding takes place. On the other hand, alfalfa can be seeded without a companion crop if post-emergence herbicides are used for weed control. It is likely that two or more harvests of alfalfa can be taken during the seeding year if weeds have been well controlled.

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