Calculating your winter hay supply

Published 9:46 am Wednesday, October 18, 2017

By Clay Stamm

The arrival of fall is an important time for livestock producers to assess their winter hay supplies.

Kentucky forage and livestock producers made a lot of hay this September, and for much of the state, hay supplies should be adequate for winter feeding.

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With the majority of this year’s hay made, now is the time to determine whether you have enough to get your animals through the winter. Determining this is not difficult. Here’s how to get a fairly accurate estimate.

— Estimate the number of days you’ll feed hay this winter. In a normal year, Kentucky producers average 120 days (from Dec. 1 until March 31) of feeding hay. This will vary depending upon your situation.

— Determine the amount of feed your animals will consume each day. Cattle and horses consume an average of 2.5 percent of their body weight every day. To determine this, multiply the average animal’s weight times 0.025 (2.5 percent) and multiply that by the number of animals you plan to feed.

— Multiply the number of days and amount of food together. This will give you a good idea of the approximate pounds of hay you’ll need for the winter.

— Take three or four hay bales to a facility with a scale, such as the local feed store. Take the bale’s average weight and multiply that by the number of bales you have. Compare this number to the amount you need.

— You also need to allow for storage and feeding losses, and adjust your hay supplies to cover these losses. If you store your hay outside, your losses may be more than 50 percent. A 50 percent loss would mean that you need to double the amount of hay you calculated is needed to feed your animals.

Before feeding hay, you should have it tested for nutrient content and toxins. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Forage Testing Program can help you determine if your animals are truly getting the nutrition they need or if you need to supplement the ration to maintain your animals’ body condition. Call the KDA at 1-800-248-4628.

A one-two punch of overgrazing in many fields during the fall of 2016 drought followed by an extremely wet 2017, resulted in johnsongrass taking hold in pastures where it’s never been before.

A warm-season annual, johnsongrass has the potential to cause cyanide poisoning in ruminants. Make sure hay coming from a field containing johnsongrass is completely dry before feeding it to your animals. Thorough drying will allow any potential cyanide threat to dissipate.

If you want to use a field with johnsongrass for grazing, wait at least two weeks after a light frost, three days after a killing frost or until the johnsongrass is completely dry before you allow the animals to graze the field.

For more information about cyanide poisoning and hay supplies, call the Clark County Cooperative Extension Service at 744-4682.

Clay Stamm is the Clark County Cooperative Extension Service Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources.