Poor hay quality due to last year’s increased rainfall, has Georgia cattle farmers searching for alternative ways to supplement the hay they feed their herds.
Jacob Segers, beef cattle specialist with University of Georgia Extension, recommends planting winter annuals such as annual rye grass, wheat or different cover crops for cows to graze during the winter. Other feed sources high in digestible fiber, including soybean hulls, corn gluten feed, citrus pulp and silage, are also suggested.
Many county Extension agents, as well as cattle farmers, are asking Segers dietary questions because a normal food source is not meeting nutritional needs this year.
More rain in 2013 resulted in hay maturing more rapidly. Because of inclement weather and wet conditions, most hay remained in fields until the skies cleared and the hay could be cut. As a result, the digestibility of the hay was low compared to that harvested in years with moderate rainfall. Also, left in the field and rained on, the hay lost a lot of nutrients essential for cattle’s growth.
"It’s not abnormal (to have poor hay quality) in a wet year but we haven’t had a wet year in Georgia in a long time. We’ve had several years of drought where our issue was actually being able to get enough hay cut. The quality of the hay usually wasn’t an issue," said Segers, who is based on the UGA campus in Tifton.
In the past, storing enough hay for the winter was the problem most farmers faced. This year there is an abundance of hay, but the quality may not be sufficient to meet the animals’ needs, Segers said.
Hay can lose approximately 20 percent of its energy value and 40 percent of its protein every ten days it has to stay in the field after the optimal cutting date, he said. "That leaves cattlemen in a situation where the hay is probably not going to meet the nutritional requirements of at least certain segments of a cowherd," Segers said.