Dry Fall May Trigger Management Changes Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler Extension Professor, University of Kentucky The drought monitor as of 10/4/2022 has most of the state, 65%, as mild to severe drought. These dry conditions across most of the state is a repeat of June/July when 82% of the state was listed as being mild to moderate. I would expect this week’s update to show conditions worsening. This should be triggering beef cattle producers in the region to begin planning their management options. The shortened day length, lack of soil moisture and cooler weather will continue to limit fall pasture forage growth. Given the pasture conditions I have seen driving, I would anticipate many producers are feeding hay already and if not will likely be starting in November. Additionally, the poor pasture conditions will slow forage growth next spring delaying turnout. Beef operations may need to plan for an additional 45-60 days of hay feeding this winter given our current pasture conditions. Take inventory of hay stores and get the forage tested for nutrient content. A quick estimate of hay needed can be done by multiplying animal weight by 3%. Note that intake will vary depending on stage of production of the cattle, forage quality, weather conditions and other factors. A mature 1,400 pound beef cow would be expected to need about 43 pounds of hay asfed daily. If hay feeding starts November 1 and continues through March 21st, this is 140 days of hay feeding adding up to about three tons of hay. Weigh some bales to have a better inventory estimate. If buying hay, be certain to buy hay on a weight basis rather than a bale basis. Research in Wisconsin demonstrated that the same hay baler operated by the same person in the same field resulted in bale weight differences as much as 200 pounds. Knowing your bale weights, you can then estimate the number of bales needed by dividing your calculated hay needs by the average weight of your bales. For this example, we will assume our bales averaged 800 pounds and dividing 6,000 pounds of hay needed by 800 pounds per bale comes to about eight bales for this 1,400 pound cow.
62 • Cow Country • November
If you need to buy additional hay, it is better to buy hay now than wait until February. Through my meetings this fall, I have had several indicate hay production was better than expected given the early dry conditions. When searching the internet, I continue to find hay available for sale and in some cases lower than the cost of production. Buying hay ideally will be based on a forage test, but if you take the chance to buy hay without a test be sure to test the hay once you get it home.
protein than our average tall fescue hay cut in June. Cows having to be fed hay 30-45 days earlier won’t gain back body condition as quickly on average fescue hay compared to grazing fall pasture forages. Given the dry conditions around peak lactation and breeding in June/July, cows may be in lower body condition than normal. Additional supplementation may be needed to get these cows back to ideal body condition prior to calving to ensure successful rebreeding next spring.
Take the opportunity to limit hay storage and feeding losses. Most of you have read or heard someone tell you that storage losses can easily reach 20-30% for hay stored outside on the ground uncovered. Losses won’t be as high this year with limited precipitation, however, there is still several months between now and March for rain to cause spoilage. If you can’t put hay in a barn, consider putting hay on a surface that will allow water to drain away. Putting down gravel to allow water to drain away is a quick way to reduce hay losses. Covering hay with a tarp can also reduce storage losses significantly.
Fall calving herds should also plan to intervene more on the nutrition side this year than normal. Consider that beef cows reach peak milk production 6-8 weeks post-partum. Cows with an average calving date near October 1 will peak around December 1. As cows have had limited forage availability and reduced quality due to drought conditions, they likely are losing body condition at a faster rate than normal to support lactation. Additionally, earlier hay feeding may limit nutrient supply and lead to more rapid body tissue mobilization. Feed the better-quality hay first to these fall calving cows to better meet their higher nutritional needs for lactation. As they move through their lactation curve and milk production decreases, nutrient needs will be less than at peak assuming the weather is not extreme. Be mindful of keeping some higher quality hay for calves. As calves reach three months of age, forage becomes a greater nutrient source than milk from the dam. By around five months of age, forage is supplying more nutrients to the calf than milk. Even with higher feed prices this winter, creep feeding may be a viable option if spring markets are strong. Push the pencil to see if there is sufficient margin to cover feed costs.
Commonly fed coproduct feedstuffs and corn is near $300/ton this fall. Testing hay and matching forage quality to the nutritional requirements of beef cattle will allow for developing feeding programs to stretch your dollars. In many instances, hay crude protein level will be sufficient for dry, mid-gestating beef cows but may be slightly low in energy. Knowing from your forage tests if you need energy supplementation, additional protein or both will allow you to make better buying decisions. Don’t pinch the purse strings too tight this fall and winter and not meet beef cattle nutritional needs. The current market outlook looks promising for 2023 and open cows are not going to raise you a feeder calf to market next fall. Monitor body condition on spring calving cows. As you get ready to wean calves from spring calving cows, record the body condition of each cow. Keep in mind that in most cases, fall pasture growth is higher in energy and available crude
As fall continues to move on, be sure to start planning for making adjustments for your beef herd management. Don’t wait too long to pull the trigger and start feeding hay and supplement to ensure cattle performance and production is maintained. Consult with your county Extension agent or consulting nutritionist to develop a costeffective strategy for supplementing your herd this winter.