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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Making Good Quality Hay Pays

Farm Business Management Update, February 2001

By Jack Dunford

The ultimate test of hay quality is animal performance. Quality can be considered satisfactory when animals consuming the hay give the desired performance. Three factors influencing animal performance are (1) consumption - hay must be palatable; (2) digestibility and nutrient content - the hay must be digested to be converted to animal products; and (3) toxicisity factors - high quality hay must be free of components which are harmful to animals.

Table 1 illustrates some important points about Virginia forages and supplementation. First, it pays to make good hay. Notice that most of the hays that were made at the right time - boot stage to early bloom - meet or exceed most of the cow's requirements. Second, ENERGY is the nutrient that most often needs to be supplemented with cool-season hays like fescue and orchardgrass. Warm-season grasses and silage more likely will need protein supplementation.

Table 1. Comparison of Cow Nutrient Requirement to Forage Analysis
Cow Nutrient Requirements by Stage of Production
Calving to
Post-breeding to
Weaning to 60 days
before calving
Hay Type %CP %TDN %CP %TDN %CP %TDN %CP %TDN
8.6 54.6 10.5 59.2 8.7 55.1 6.6 47.4
Fescue, Mature
44% TDN
8.6 % CP
yes no no no Border-line no yes no
Fescue, Boot
58% TDN
11.5 % CP
yes yes yes no yes yes yes yes
55 % TDN
7.5 % CP
no yes no no no Border-line yes yes
Orchardgrass, Mid Bloom
56 % TDN
9.2 % CP
yes yes no no yes yes yes yes
Corn Silage
68 % TDN
8.2 % CP
no yes no yes no yes yes yes
Stockpiled Fescue-legume
60 % TDN
12.9 % CP
yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
yes = meets requirements; no= fails to meet requirement

Using a variety of hay analyses, rations were balanced for several classes of livestock to evaluate the economic impact of balancing rations with good quality hay versus poorer quality hay supplemented with shelled corn and/or 48% soybean meal. This analysis does not include the additional time involved with feeding the required supplements, only the actual cost of the ingredients. Table 2 summarizes the daily cost of providing adequate dry matter, crude protein and energy (TDN) with varying quality hays for four classes of livestock.

Table 2. Daily Costs of Feeding Balanced Rations with Varying Qualities of Hay
Hay Quality and Type
LQ Fescue Hay
Class of Livestock Ration Cost Per DayRation Cost Per Day Ration Cost Per Day
Cows Nursing Calves H $.80 H+C $.84 H+C+S $.95
Cows - Last Trimester H $.68 H $.68 H+S $.70
700 Lb. Stockers - 1.77 ADG H+C $.58 H+C $.65 H+C+S $.73
Ewes - Early Lactation H+C $.17 H+C+S $.23 H+C+S $.25
H = Hay @ $50 per ton (HQ = High Quality) (LQ = Low Quality) (OG = Orchardgrass)
C = Shelled Corn @ $2.50 per bushel
S = 48% SBOM @ $225 per ton

Producing quality hay will make (save) the livestock producer money. Feeding the maximum possible nutrient density in the form of hay will minimize the amount of energy and protein supplements that must be fed. For example, the $.15 extra daily feed cost for stockers due to the additional required supplementation of the low quality fescue hay amounts to $27 per head for a 180-day feeding period. In recent years with the tight margins in the stocker business, this extra $27 per head income would be welcomed by most producers. Producers should also make every effort to match the varying quality hays on the farm to the appropriate class of livestock to minimize supplemented protein and energy.

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