Estimating Winter Hay Needs

Each fall, cow/calf producers have to estimate their winter hay needs, and Glenn Selk, Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist at Oklahoma State University, addressed this in a letter to Extension agents called Cow/Calf Corner.

In the letter, Selk said winter hay needs will vary dramatically from place to place.  Also, hay feeding will start earlier and occur over more days where drought or snow-cover prevent grazing.




Forage quality will be a determining factor in the amount consumed, Selk said.  Higher quality forages contain larger concentrations of important nutrients so animals consuming these forages should more easily meet their nutrient needs.

Also, cows can consume a larger quantity of higher quality forages.  Higher quality forages are fermented more rapidly in the rumen, leaving a void that the animal can re-fill with additional forage, he said.

Low quality forages (below about 6% crude protein) will be consumed at about 1.5% of body weight (on a dry matter basis) per day, Selk said.  Higher quality grass hays (above 8% crude protein) may be consumed at about 2.0% of body weight.  Excellent forages, such as good alfalfa, silages, or green pasture may be consumed at the rate of 2.5% dry matter of body weight per day.

The combination of increased nutrient content AND increased forage intake makes high quality forage very valuable to the animal and the producer, he said.




Using an example of 1,200-pound pregnant spring-calving cows, assume the grass hay quality is good and tested 8% crude protein, he said.  Cows will voluntarily consume 2.0% of body weight or 24 pounds a day, based on 100% dry matter.

Grass hays often will be 7% to 10% moisture, he said.  Assuming the hay is 92% dry matter, or 8% moisture, the cows will consume about 26 pounds a day on an “as-fed basis.”

Producers also have to consider wastage when feeding big round bales, Selk said.  Hay wastage is difficult to estimate, but generally is 6% to 20%.

For this example, assume 15% hay wastage, he said.  This means about 30 pounds of grass hay will be needed for each pregnant cow each day hay is the primary ingredient in the diet.

After calving and during early lactation, the cow may weigh 100 pounds less, but will be able to consume about 2.6% of her body weight (100% dry matter) in hay, he said.  This would translate into 36 pounds of “as-fed” hay per cow per day, assuming 15% hay wastage.

Accurate knowledge of average cow size in the herd as well as the average weight of the big round bales becomes necessary to predict hay needs and hay feeding strategies.

Unless cool season grasses are available in March and April, lactating cows may need to be fed hay for 60 days or more to maintain body condition while waiting for grass to grow.




Fed cattle trading this week was seen at $107 to $109 per cwt on a live basis, steady with last week.  Dressed-basis trading was reported at $169 per cwt, up $2 to down $1.

The USDA choice cutout Thursday was down $0.66 per cwt at $210.48, while select was off $2.77 at $196.50.  The choice/select spread widened to $13.98 from $11.87 with 199 loads of fabricated product and 37 loads of trimmings and grinds sold into the spot market.

There were no delivery notices against the Oct live cattle futures market Thursday.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Wednesday was $140.91 per cwt, down $0.01.  This compares with Thursday’s Oct contract settlement of $138.92 per cwt, up $0.55.