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DROUGHT FORCES PRODUCERS TO LIMIT HAY CONSUMPTION

by: Darrell Rankins, Ph.D.
Ala. Cooperative Extension System Animal Scientist


Because of this year's drought it is likely that many producers have inadequate supplies of hay. Therefore, this month's topic will focus on providing adequate nutrition with limited amounts of hay.

First of all, it is important to remember that cattle are ruminants and thus need some forage (fiber) in their daily diet. In general, the minimal amount required is about 0.5 percent of body weight, which would equate to five to six pounds for 1,000 to 1,200 pound cows. Because most beef producers use hay in the form of a large round bale, it is difficult to limit hay consumption to five to six pounds per day.

There are only two realistic ways to limit hay consumption with round bales. The hay can be unrolled and offered at a predetermined amount. Another way would be to put an adequate number of rolls in a small area such that the cows can be put into the area for about two hours per day in order to control the amount of hay that they consume.

With this program it is important that all cows have access to the hay, approximately one roll for every 10 cows. If small, square bales of hay are available, then it becomes much easier to offer five to six pounds of hay per day.

Assuming that it does rain before fall, anther alternative for providing five to six pounds of forage per day is by limited access to stock piled forage. If you are in the fescue region, this would be an excellent choice for stock piling.

We can assume that fescue with 70 to 80 pounds of N per acre and adequate moisture would accumulate approximately 1,800 to 2,000 pounds of utilizable forage per acre by December 1st. With proper fencing, the animals could be given a fraction of an acre every day or every other day such that you were giving them access to about five to six pounds of forage dry matter per day.

This technique works extremely well with the use of electric fencing. The same principles could be used with winter animals in the non fescue growing areas of the state.

A final option for providing roughage to the cows would be the use of various by products such as peanut hulls, cottonseed hulls, gin trash, cotton motes or any other by product roughages that may be available in your area. When using peanut hulls as a roughage source make sure that they are loose hulls and not pelleted or ground hulls. Using ground or pelleted peanut hulls can cause rumen compaction problems.

Now that the hay has been conserved by some sort of limit feeding system, what is needed to meet the nutrient needs of the cow? For a 1,000 pound cow that has not yet calved, we would need to provide her with about 12 pounds of a grain mix that contains approximately 12 percent crude protein. One such mix would be to blend 575 pounds of corn with 50 pounds of soybean meal. Another possibility would be to feed soybean hulls or corn gluten feed. Also, check with your local livestock feed dealer and they may have a blend suitable for your needs.

Once the cows calve and begin lactating, then their daily nutrient requirements will increase and they will require approximately 18 pounds of grain mix, soybean hulls or corn gluten feed per day plus their hay allowance.

With this system, the cow would be fed 12 to 18 pounds of concentrate per day (depending on stage of production) and given five to six pounds of forage per day. For this system it is important to have adequate bunk space for feeding the cows to make sure that the boss cows do not consume the majority of the feed.

In general, if the cows can access both sides of the bunk, then a 10 foot trough will accommodate 10 to 12 mature cows. It is very important to note that good feeding management is a must when feeding cows in this manner. It would be very easy to founder some cows when feeding this amount of a corn based supplement per day. Obviously, this system is quite labor intensive and requires a large amount of daily feeding; however, if hay supplies are severely limited, it may be the only alternative available.

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