Texas Livestock: Producers Affected in Wildfires Advised on Feeding Value of Donated Hay

    Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter

    Generous hay donations have arrived from a variety of areas in the wildfire relief effort as producers quickly worked to get feed in front of cattle left with little or nothing to graze.

    However, Dr. Ted McCollum, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service beef cattle specialist in Amarillo, said as producers take the hay home to feed their stock, some points need to be considered.

    McCollum said cows will eat about 2-2.6 percent of their body weight of dry hay depending on quality and also waste some.

    “Make certain to provide enough so the cows can achieve a full daily intake,” he said.  “Account for waste when calculating the amount of hay to feed daily. Depending on how the hay is fed to the cows, there can be as much as 50 percent wastage. Bale feeders, if available, will reduce waste. If hay can be metered out to the cows, then waste can be reduced.”

    The class of cattle consuming the hay also must be considered, McCollum said.

    “Young growing cattle, pregnant heifers approaching calving, first-calf heifers and cows nursing calves are among the classes with the highest nutrient demands,” he said. “These are followed by mature cows in late pregnancy and then by cows in early pregnancy, mature bulls and dry cows.”

    So, it may be possible to match better quality hay to the cattle with higher demands and lower quality to those with lower demands, McCollum said. Supplemental protein and energy may be required depending on the hay and the cattle.

    He said cows being held to market soon may be managed differently than cows remaining in the herd, either at the current location or after being moved to alternative grass, for the longer term.

    McCollum said any calves over 5 weeks old should be able to be transitioned to dry feed.

    “It can’t be any old hay – it probably needs to be good quality alfalfa hay and a mixed feed or sweet feed that has grain and protein in it,” he said. “They need the calories and protein that grass hay may not provide them.”

    Younger calves need to be started on a bottle with milk replacer, McCollum said. Also, put some dry feed in front of them such as the sweet feed and alfalfa hay to encourage them to start eating. They need to be eating about 1-1.5 percent of their body weight in dry feed before they are transitioned off the bottle.

    Another option, he said, is to send them to a dairy calf ranch where the bottle feeding is done for them, either retaining ownership or selling them outright to the calf ranch.

    McCollum said to develop a well-managed nutrition program, it is recommended that producers test the hay for protein and energy value, especially when they are unsure of its origins.

    “Stating the obvious, not all hay is the same,” McCollum said. “Some hay may require some additional nutrients – protein and minerals – from supplements while other hays may satisfy the needs of the cows. A supplemental mineral is recommended.”

    McCollum said while it would be difficult to address all sources of hay in detail, he provided some generalities.
    Native prairie grass hay from areas east and northeast of the Texas Panhandle – typically this hay has relatively low protein and will need to be supplemented with protein.

    “The energy value of the hay is probably lower than required to maintain and increase weight for most cattle, especially those with higher nutrient demands,” he said. “Supplementing protein sources will improve digestion of the hay and provide some additional energy.”

    Because of the difference in plant species and growing season, native prairie grass hay from areas west of the Texas Panhandle can contain more protein and energy than prairie hay mentioned above, McCollum said. Supplementation is still a need for the cattle with higher nutrient requirements.

    Hay from Conservation Reserve Program fields can vary in quality, he said. Typically this hay will have a relatively low protein and energy content and will require supplemental protein for all classes of cattle.

    Good Bermuda grass hay can supply the needs of all the cattle, McCollum said. However quality can vary and in some cases, the hay may require some supplemental protein and possibly energy for the classes of cattle with the higher nutrient demands.

    Crabgrass hay is good quality hay that should not require any supplementation, he said. Sorghum-sudangrass hay or haygrazer will support a dry cow or mature cow in gestation, but lactating cows and replacement heifers may require a protein supplement.

    Small grains – wheat, triticale, oat — hay and alfalfa hay should not require protein or energy supplements if the cattle are provided adequate amounts of hay, McCollum said.

    “In fact, the protein content in alfalfa hay is high enough that a full daily intake of alfalfa can provide more protein than cattle can utilize,” he said. “If possible, the alfalfa is better used to supplement protein to the lower quality hays. Feeding a bale of alfalfa to every one to two bales of grass hay or sorghum-sudan hay should be considered.”

    McCollum said another concern is some hay sources may contain nitrates. The sorghum-sudangrass hay and in some cases the small grains hays and crab grass hays, can contain nitrate levels that can present some issues for cattle.

    “This can be tested to determine if levels in the hay are of concern,” he said. “In the absence of testing, one is accepting a risk of possible abortions in pregnant cows and potentially death in all cattle if the levels are high enough. When testing, sample several bales rather than relying on a sample from one or two to be representative of the entire hay supply.”

    A possible management approach in the absence of testing is to limit the amount of the suspect hay provided to the cattle each day and feed other hay with the suspect hay, McCollum said.

    “But, this requires the hay be rationed out to the cattle and that the amount consumed by all cattle is limited,” he said. “This can be difficult to accomplish.”

    Producers can mail forage samples to the Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory, 2478 TAMU, College Station, Texas 77843-2478 or get more information at here.

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