Indiana's second hay cutting is lower yielding, but higher in nutritional value than the first. Knowing this can help cattle producers decide on a feeding program and supplement strategy for their herds for the next year.
Farmers started the second cutting late after a cool, wet spring delayed the first hay harvest. But favorable weather conditions with adequate moisture and sunny days during the second growing period means forages should be high in the nutrients that cattle need if harvested at the correct stage of maturity. This high-quality hay can give producers an option, in addition to supplemental feeds, to offset poorer-quality hay from the first cutting.
“First cutting is going to be lower in energy, protein and digestibility than normal,” said Ron Lemenager, Purdue Extension beef specialist. “That means that when that's fed to a given class of cattle, performance won't be as good as you would typically expect out of first cutting. That's where that second, third, maybe fourth cutting for some producers will be of higher quality, so we might be able to mix and match how we feed low-quality and higher-quality forages to meet the requirement of different stages of production in our cow herd.”
One key concern for producers is ensuring that cattle get the nutrients they need at each stage of the production cycle. High-quality forages should be fed to animals with the highest nutrient requirements, such as replacement heifers, developing bulls and lactating cows.
Cows that have just weaned calves and are in mid-pregnancy have the lowest nutrient requirements and can be fed the lower-quality first-cutting forages.
It all comes down to having the right feeding strategy, Lemenager said.
“It may not be that every animal gets the high-quality forage every day, but the data suggests that if I meet protein requirements by feeding high protein one day, I might be able to skip a day or two and incorporate more lower quality forages, and then come back with a higher quality on about the third day again,” he said. “We can probably still maintain good microbial fermentation in the rumen by providing enough energy and protein to make the rumen efficient.”
In many cases, forages alone won't be able to provide sufficient nutrition for cattle, and producers will have to add supplemental feedstuffs to animal diets. These supplements can include soybean hulls for energy or corn gluten or distillers grains for energy and protein.
One way to determine the types and amounts of supplements that best fit into a feeding strategy is to analyze forage quality. Lemenager suggested that producers sample 10 percent of the hay bales from the same harvest in the same field to determine nutritional value of each lot of hay.
“If it looks like you're going to have to buy supplements, my recommendation would be to consider watching the market on these supplements and locking in the price earlier than normal instead of waiting until winter or fall,” he said.