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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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Hay Tedding Makes a Comeback

Hay tedding fell out of favor years ago but is experiencing a comeback on many farms. Of course, to understand the significance of this resurgence one must understand just what hay tedding is in the first place.

Tedding involves lifting and separating hay so that it takes less time for the hay to dry. The increased drying speed is believed to give hay producers more flexibility, resulting in higher quality forage.

Experts say that the biggest advantage of tedding is that the crop—or hay—is fluffed, which leads to more air flow through the bottom of the windrow. This allows for more sunlight on the windrow and faster, more uniform drying. This comes into play especially in rainy climates where it can reduce drying time by 24 to 48 hours.

Tedding has been around for hundreds of years but in modern times it fell out favor because it was seen as causing a great deal of leaf loss. Today producers are thought to better understand its benefits when it is performed correctly.

Hay tedding will probably never be common in the warmer parts of the United States but some hay producers in the west and southwest may employ it at times since weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable and more rainfall is occurring in those portions of the country.

Tedding should take place about a day or so after mowing because the crop at the top will have wilted and dried by then. That means the green underneath will come toward the top. In all cases, when there is rain in the forecast it is essential to get the hay put up before it begins to rain.

Tedding works best for grass hay because that type of hay mats and dries more slowly. Alfalfa hay is rarely tedded because there is a greater chance of leaf loss and leaving alfalfa in the field too long will cause problems. Experts say that tedding alfalfa is possible if you time it right by cutting hay when it’s a bit damp so that the leaves will not fall off.

Of course, you also need the right equipment for tedding. There are basically two types, light duty and heavy duty. Light-duty tedders are designed for smaller operations or when tedding won’t be performed on a regular basis. Producers who will use a tedder frequently and on larger areas will do best with a heavy-duty tedder.


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How to Grow Quality Hay for Horses

There are several types of hays you can grow for personal or commercial use. It all depends on the type of horses that will feed on the hay and also on the local climatic conditions. So, before you plant hay, be sure to do a thorough research on the type of hay that does well in your area—whether it can withstand root rot, winter kill, wilt, and drought. Better still, you can consult an equine nutritionist or a vet. Growing quality hay can be achieved by a combination of good weather, weed-free fields, and proper harvesting. Here is a guide on how to grow quality hay.

Soil preparation

After seed selection, you have to prepare the soil. Test the soil acidity, and if it needs a fertilizer, add potassium and phosphorus for legume hay or nitrogen for grass hay.  But if the soil has excess acidity, you can add limestone to reduce the acidity. You can also reduce soil acidity by crop rotation with corn and barley – such grains deplete nitrogen from the soil. Fertilizers often help seedlings to start their growth vigorously and enable hay plants to withstand winter kill and insects. Hay seedlings often do well in a firm seedbed but not so much in a soft one. Hay seedlings are then drilled at about ¼-½ inch into the soil.


Hay grows just as any other crops in the field. It takes up to three months for hay to mature for harvesting—less for areas with lots of rain. Cutting hay at the appropriate time is important to ensure quality re-growth. Do not cut off so early or so late—the best time is when other crops in the field are about to flower. This is because at this stage, the hay is full of energy, sugars, and proteins – the more the leaves the better. Make sure you use sharp blades or lawnmowers when harvesting. The cutting height is very crucial as it affects the hay’s ability to re-grow. You can have up to three cuttings before re-planting new seedlings, though the first cut is much more nutritious. The second cut tends to grow faster but has fewer protein nutrients compared to the first. The third cut takes longer to grow and come up mostly during the cooler season, meaning more nutrients compared to the second.

If you notice any unusual changes in the leafiness, color foreign matter, or odor, there could be something wrong with the growth or how the hay or hay bales are being stored. Take the necessary steps or talk to a specialist to resolve the problem and improve the nutritional value of the hay.

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Cold Weather Impacts Hay Inventories

Winter takes a toll on almost every agricultural sector in the economy including hay production and storage. Over the years farmers and ranchers have had to devise methods of enduring bone-chilling winters with limited hay inventories.                        

Below are some other effects of cold winters on hay inventory:

Reduced hay quality

Hay quality is measured by the quantity and availability of nutrients in the hay. This is determined by the estimation of fiber and protein in the hay. However, the ultimate measure of hay quality is the animal performance and how digestible the hay is. During winter hay stalks are hardened, and the nutrients in them are strained. Also, they take a longer time to be digested and assimilated. 

Inconsistent moisture levels may spoil hay inventory

Towards the end of fall most farmers and ranchers are usually in the hurried process of stacking up enough hay for winter. However, the winter temperature fluctuations pose a challenge for the farmers during storage. During the warmer winter days, snow tends to melt away slightly. When the snow melts during winter, moisture will work its way through the stored stacks. This sudden moisture variation can lead to spoilage. 

Dry matter loss in winter

Hay loses weight and degrades in quality over time. Such loses mostly occur during lengthened storage period for example during cold seasons. During winter, your hay inventory may shrink by up to 10 percent compared to freshly baled hay. As such, the quality of your hay inventory during cold seasons is lower. However, this loss may be different across various forage species. 

How can farmers and ranchers counter the cold weather effects?

There have been several suggestions over the years about dealing with the effects of cold weather on hay inventory. However, it all goes down to the storage techniques used by individual farmers. Whereas it is difficult to predict how cold the temperatures will get, farmers can invest in proper storage methods to keep their hay fresh. For example, separating stacks of hay bales by at least 50 feet to avoid widespread damage. Also, positioning uncovered stacks to take advantage of the prevailing winds to keep them dry. 

In a nutshell, proper storage can go a long way in mitigating some of the effects of cold weather on hay inventory. 

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The Pros and Cons of Overseeding Alfalfa into Alfalfa

A thin alfalfa stand is a common occurrence as that stand ages. Unfortunately, thinning of an alfalfa stand also can occur in young stands. So what’s a producer to do?

One theory is that overseeding alfalfa into alfalfa will not only prolong the life of an alfalfa stand but also will correct any deficiencies present in a stand. While this method of improving a thin stand has some proponents, there are risks to it, as well. Here are some things to look out for when considering this method:

  1. As a slow-growing perennial, alfalfa has a difficult time competing with existing plants and weeds for things like water, nutrients and water. Further, soils in fields that are well established do not germinate well.
  2. If the reason for plant loss in the first place is not determined than it is likely that it will impact the newly planted alfalfa, as well,
  3. Alfalfa produces autotoxins that suppress growth of alfalfa seedlings in existing stands.

Under certain conditions, however, overseeding alfalfa into existing alfalfa stands will help to reduce thinning. These include alfalfa stands that have been damaged by flood or frost.

Thankfully there are other methods for improving alfalfa stands that are thinning. One successful method is to overseed with grass forage such as berseem clover, fescue, oat hay, orchard grass and ryegrass. These types of annual and perennial forages are planted in the late fall or winter and will quickly grow and push through dormant, established alfalfa to fill in thinning and weak alfalfa stands.

When overseeding with grass forage it is important to keep in mind that mixed hay may not be acceptable for livestock feed for the dairy industry and instead will be more appropriate for horses. It also is important to note that when grasses are mixed with alfalfa, the grasses will likely, over time, take over alfalfa.

In the end, if you are committed to overseeding alfalfa into alfalfa, keep the following in mind:

  • If you are overseeding alfalfa into young stands it is important to pay close attention to herbicide limitations, seed depth, tillage and timing.
  • Overseeding into older stands is less successful but may be possible under mild conditions.


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Pricing Hay

For any hay producer, the price of their hay has a significant effect on their bottom line. For this reason, it’s important to price hay intelligently. There are a number of factors that go into hay price, and it’s vital that hay producers take these into account to get the most bang for their buck from their hay.

First of all, when pricing hay for livestock feed, it is important to assess the nutrients present. Each time of nutrient has a different monetary value. For instance, thirty-nine percent of hay’s value comes from its protein content and twenty-five comes from the fiber present.

However, hay’s value is not entirely dependent on the type of nutrients found in it, especially when one considers that one-dimensional type hay can be detrimental for livestock’s health, thus lessening its overall value. For instance, hay that has too much fiber can stunt milk production, so pricing hay based on its fiber content alone would be irrational, as hay that is too fiber-rich would actually be problematic. Therefore, one should also consider the presence of neutral detergent fiber (NDF). When forty-four percent of the forage is NDF, it is worth $17 dollars approximately (for every hundred units of weight), and this value decreases by $4.75 (per one ton) for each percent lower than forty-four it is.

Although it is not unreasonable to take into account relative nutrient values and price hay accordingly, it is not consistent with how it is typically priced. With this in mind, therefore, it is important to understand the more typical ways that forage value is derived. One of these is known as relative feed value, which, despite its fancy name, is mostly dependent upon fiber content. On the other hand, there is another index known as relative forage quality. This, too, hinges upon fiber concentration; however, other characteristics of the forage, such as digestibility and ash, are also used in determining this metric. These methods for calculating hay price are imperfect but dominate the market; thus, using them to price one’s hay is perfectly reasonable. Nevertheless, using the presence of nutrients that are not typically used in determining price is not out of the question either. It is up to the discretion of the hay producer, then, to understand the relative values of the nutrients present so to price hay in a way that will great an adequate return on investment without being too cost prohibitive for consumers.

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Winter Livestock Feed Requirements

Obviously, livestock must be fed at all times, but the dietary requirements from winter to summer vary. Additionally, it is more cost effective to purchase hay in bulk that in installments, so it is important for livestock owners to be able to accurately calculate how much feed will get them through the winter months. Luckily, there exist rather straightforward ways to calculate how much hay is necessary to sustain livestock during the winter. These hinge on simple factors such as livestock type and weight and how many days the livestock will be fed.

First of all, it is important to consider how much livestock feed each type of animal requires, and this is expressed as a percentage of the livestock’s body weight. Certain livestock have heftier requirements, such as goat and sheep, which can require up to six and five percent, respectively, whereas horses and cattle can require as little as one percent. Taking these numbers into consideration is simple and makes having sufficient feed a relatively simple task. It’s also important to note the age of the livestock, as older livestock need less feed relative to body weight than their younger counterparts. With this in mind, it is easy to extrapolate how much feed is necessary for a single day and then consider it for the entirety of a feeding period.

Certain animals may be outliers and require less or more feed. There exist numerous factors that indicate whether an animal’s diet is meeting its needs. Some are more subjective; for instance, if an animal lacks alertness or is not displaying much of an appetite, it is probably being underfed. However, there are more cut-and-dry physical indicators, too. Certain physiological factors that demonstrate that a certain animal is not getting enough food would be cracked hooves or weight loss (or, on the other end of the spectrum, excessive weight gain).

Although the quickest fix to these maladies may appear at first be to feed livestock more, better quality forage can also help. Namely, allowing livestock to graze on frozen ground does can in fact contribute to their daily intake, but oftentimes this will leave them not obtaining sufficient proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Feeding livestock an optimal amount of food is never optional. As such, it is important to be informed about how much feed is necessary for different types of livestock as well as signs that certain animals are being under- or overfed. 

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Keeping Livestock Warm When Temperatures Drop

Livestock animals are hearty and are well able to handle cold weather. However, keeping livestock outside for any reason, including to extend grazing periods, means some special steps must be taken to make sure that these animals are protected and remain healthy.

Cows compensate for cold temperatures with a heavier coat and they also look for ways to generate heat. They also will flock together in circles to exchange heat. Animals in the outer circle will find a warm spot and move themselves to the center, pushing the ones at the center of the circle out.

In general, if extremely cold temperatures are not present, livestock like cattle can handle the elements as long as they are healthy and not exposed to wet, windy weather or wind chills that dip below freezing. If temperatures are above freezing, cattle can stay comfortable as long as they have enough hay, food and water. Problems begin when extreme cold, wet weather comes into play, or when an animal has a history of health problems or they are without food and shelter.

If you are unsure whether it is best to keep your cattle indoors in cold conditions, it is best to err on the side of caution. However, if this is not an option, you should build cover with a tarp, creating a makeshift, or rustic, barn. You also should keep ample bedding outside or in the barn so that cattle have a relatively warm place to recline. If cattle are outside, move these areas around to avoid erosion.

During cold weather, cows also will need to increase their hay intake. High-quality hay is a must in such conditions. Livestock feed with an additional energy source also is recommended. This includes things like grain, oilseeds and commercially produced feed supplements.

What follows are some of the most important things to keep in mind if your livestock are outside during cold weather:

  • Animals in poor health need extra attention in order to survive and remain productive in cold weather.
  • Even if you can’t provide constant shelter to livestock in cold conditions, try to provide it at least periodically. They also need enough food and water.
  • When temperatures fall extremely low, provide refuge in a barn or in a rustic barn.
  • Cold air is heavier and comes from above so providing a cover over animals is important.


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Is a Hay Baler with a Pre-Cutting System Worth the Money?

Many farmers and ranchers are investing in hay balers which include a pre-cutting system. While the advantages of such balers are numerous, many farmers and ranchers believe that the high cost of such balers isn’t worth the investment.

Hay balers which include a pre-cutting system work just as the name implies. Knives cut forage before it is baled through the use of a rotor. This rotor is situated behind the vehicle pulling the crop and does the cutting as the forage enters the bale chamber.

With the hay cut in smaller pieces, more tonnage is created because the hay is basically cut into much smaller pieces. This means that farmers and ranchers can get more hay in one bale of equal size. This creates advantages for producers. The hay is easier to transport since more tonnage is included in each bale. It also requires less room to store the bales. Further, packaging costs are decreased.

While all of this is important, how does pre-cut forage impact the hay as livestock feed? The first thing to consider is that cattle eat pounds of food. These animals care little about the size of the bales.

Pre-cut hay also can eliminate waste. When forage is cut shorter, a large portion of that forage goes into the mouth of the animal and less onto the ground, amounting to improved feed efficiency. Pre-cut forage also means cattle need less time to chew. In fact, studies show improved performance and weight gain in animals fed pre-cut hay. And when cattle weigh more they are worth more at auction.

Dairy farmers may find this type of balers especially helpful since when using a total mixed ration (TMR), pre-cut bales are easier to break apart. Incorporating TMR into hay that is cut short is much easier than mixing it with long forage. This means less time and manpower needed to feed dairy cattle.

While it is tempting to make decisions based on price alone, there are many factors that determine whether a pre-cutting system for a baler is the right one for a particular producer. Fuel costs for a baler with a pre-cutting system will use more fuel than a regular baler and depending on the price of fuel at any given time this can be an important consideration.




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