September 15, 2006
Buying sorry hay during a drought year like the one we're facing is not a sin, said forage specialist Gerald Evers.
But using that hay without getting a forage analysis of it is quite another matter, he told a standing room crowd at the 52nd annual Texas A&M Beef Cattleman's Short Course held in College Station in August.
When cost factors are playing such a critical role in agricultural production around Texas, particularly among cattle producers, knowing the nutritional value what you feed your animals can play a critical factor in making decisions about your herd.
"Finding any hay, much less good hay, can be difficult and expensive during a drought like the one we're facing," he said. "But there is no reason you can't check the crude protein levels of the hay you buy to ensure you're maximizing your feed and supplements."
While joking that many can now call the common hay bale "cow caviar," considering its rising costs, Evers urged all ranchers to have hay tested before feeding.
In addition to learning nutritional content that can assist producers as they examine costs of supplement feeds for their herd, cattlemen can also test hay for nitrate levels. Nitrates can prove toxic to cattle, and in dry years, the levels of nitrates in hay are generally more prevalent.
Nitrates in excess of 5,000 parts per million can prove lethal to a cow, Evers said, with death coming as quickly as an hour after ingestion.
Unfortunately, not much can be done to remedy high-nitrate hay, he said, but cattlemen at least know the problem exists before they lose their cattle.
Rather than deal with costly hay in dry times, Evers urged cattlemen to employ what he called "reserve grazing," rotating pastures and planting alternating, year-round covers such as winter ryegrass and legumes or clovers. By letting the animal do the harvesting for you as opposed to the hay baler, Evers estimated savings of up to $30-$40 per cow.
For more on reserve grazing and forage testing, visit www.forage.-tamu.edu.