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Feed advice: Test quality of your hay, make plan

Too much rain early and too little late squelched both quality and quantity of normal forage sources. For some, “winter hay feeding started in October. How can you chart a course to survive winter without breaking the bank?

“The whole thing comes down to getting your hay tested,” says Dave Trotter, Purdue University Extension ag educator in Clark County. “You need to know what you have in terms of quality. Then you can sit down and work out a plan.”

This is more than just high-brow advice. Trotter has a sheep flock that he has to figure out how to get through the winter, too. That’s one reason he knows what the best advice is — once you know what you have, devise a plan for feeding it so that the animals get what they need when they need it most.

Key Points

Supplementing poor-quality forage starts with a forage test.

Make sure you know nutrient makeup of feed alternatives.

Corn stover removes valuable crop nutrients.

With results in hand, Trotter says it’s much easier to figure out when and how rations for various classes of livestock should be supplemented. “We know shelled corn is around 7% protein, and soybean meal is either 44% or 48%, but forage can be all over the board,” he says.

If your forage supply is low on energy, you can get by feeding more protein, Trotter notes. “But it’s an expensive way to provide energy, and in some cases it can lead to nutritional problems,” he says.

Feed your poorest quality stuff to animals that aren’t bred or are in early stages of gestation, he notes. As they get into the last trimester, feed the highest quality forage available.

Alternative feeds

Trotter has already fielded questions about alternative feedstuffs as bizarre as soybean hulls and peanut skins. Feeding peanut skins has been evaluated at some universities in the Deep South.

“Corn screenings is another one,” he notes. “The secret to using it is getting an analysis to see what’s in it.”

While not prevalent in Trotter’s area, a fair amount of cornstalks were baled statewide.

Again, feeding value varies. Also, weigh stalk bales, Trotter advises. One farmer weighed a stalk bale vs. an orchardgrass bale, both from the same baler. The stalk bale was 300 pounds lighter, at roughly 900 pounds vs. 1,200 pounds.

It’s not free

On the flip side, the last time a major dry spell affected forage quantity, in 2007, Chad Lee, University of Kentucky, reminded farmers that corn stover is not free. If corn yields 150 to 175 bushels per acre, it produces 8,000 pounds of stover per acre. Total nutrients in those 4 tons equals 55 pounds of nitrogen, 27 pounds of phosphate and 115 pounds of potash.

Suppose a large round bale weighs 1,200 pounds. It removes 8 pounds of N, 4 pounds of phosphate and 17 pounds of potash. Using comparable fertilizer prices, he calculates that each bale removes $5.50 worth of P and K. If you add in N, it’s $8.50 per bale.

His figures don’t account for potential lost contributions to organic matter buildup or soil protection.


Feed, fuel or bedding? However you decide to use this bale of corn stover, University of Kentucky agronomists say you should assess a charge for nutrients removed.

This article published in the December, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.