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Feeding Programs for Growing Cattle Using This Year's Hay

Livestock Update, January 2004

Mark L Wahlberg, Extension Animal Scientist, VA Tech

Hay Quality Lots of hay was made this year, but much of the hay was cut at a very advanced stage of maturity. Consequently, it is quite low in energy, and lower than normal in protein. A number of hay analyses are showing TDN levels in the 44 to 48%, and protein in the 8 to 11% range (all values on a dry matter basis).

Requirements of growing cattle for lower rates of gain can be met with the protein content of this hay. However, the energy content is inadequate to even maintain body weight, let alone allow cattle to grow. Part of the problem is the lower amount of TDN contained in the hay. Another problem is the very high fiber level means that the hay is digested slowly, resulting in a reduced amount of intake each day. When cattle consume a reduced amount of a low quality feed, total nutrient intake is quite low, and thus performance is very low.

I ran a computer prediction of performance of a 500 pound Angus X Hereford steer using mature fescue hay which contains 44% TDN and 10.8% protein. The computer predicted an intake of 11 pounds of dry matter, resulting in energy intake that falls far short of the requirement for maintenance. With this hay, intake had to be 55% higher, or 17 pounds of dry matter, in order to just meet the maintenance requirement for this calf. A 500 pound calf cannot eat this much hay, so the bottom line from this prediction is that the hay needs to be supplemented with other feeds.

Grain Supplementation When grain is added the amount of hay consumed will be reduced to make room for the grain. However, because the grain is more easily digested and passes through the system more quickly, a higher amount of feed can be consumed each day. Specific combinations of hay and grain, with resulting expected performance, are shown in the following tables. In the first table, grain is fed at or slightly more than 1% of the animal's body weight, and hay makes up the balance of the diet up to the appetite of the calf.

Table 1. Hay plus Grain for a 500-pound steer - Lower Rates of Gain
Amounts of Feed Shown are As-Fed Quantities
Mature Fescue Contains 44% TDN and 10.8% Protein (DM Basis)
Mature Fescue Hay 8 8 8 8 8 6 9
Corn Gluten Feed 6 3   3.3      
Soybean Hulls   3 6        
Cracked Corn       3.3      
Barley (Light Test Weight)         6.5    
Wet Brewers Grain (21% DM)           33  
Whole Cottonseed             5
Soybean Meal None needed if hay contains Protein as Shown
Commercial Grain Products containing 14% protein or higher can be substituted for the same amount of grain shown above.
Dry Matter Intake 12.7 12.7 12.7 13.2 13.0 12.4 12.8
Average Daily Gain 0.5 0.5 0.5 1.0 0.5 0.3 0.63

For many producers, gains of only a half a pound per day are unacceptable. Certainly for producers growing heifer calves as herd replacements this is too slow for those heifers to achieve puberty in the required time frame. For producers desiring to grow cattle for sale in the spring as yearlings weighing 800 pounds or more, this amount of gain is too slow. Below is another table, with combinations of feeds needed to produce faster gains. Again, the mature fescue hay with low energy content is used.

Table 2. Hay plus Grain for a 500-pound steer - Higher Rates of Gain
Amounts of Feed Shown are As-Fed Quantities
Mature Fescue Contains 44% TDN and 10.8% Protein (DM Basis)
Mature Fescue Hay 5 6 5 5 5 5
Corn Gluten Feed 10       5  
Soybean Hulls     9.5   5  
Cracked Corn   8       6.6
Barley (Light Test Weight)       10    
Wet Brewers Grain (21% DM) Energy content is not high enough for higher ADG
Whole Cottonseed Maximum per Head is 5 pounds (See table above)
Soybean Meal   1        
Broiler Litter           3.3
Commercial Grain Products containing 14% protein or higher can be substituted for the same amount of grain shown above.
Dry Matter Intake 13.6 13.4 13.2 13.4 13.6 13.0
Average Daily Gain 1.82 2.05 1.62 1.49 1.85 1.67

When comparing the values in both tables to the situation with hay alone, the daily dry matter intake with supplementation is 1.5 to 2.5 pounds higher. As mentioned previously, this is because the more digestible grain is replacing a substantial amount of the poorly digested hay, and the faster rate of passage of the feed through the system allows the calf to consume a greater amount of total feed each day. Also, protein supplementation is needed only when cracked corn is fed. This is because all the other feeds used contain an adequate amount of protein by themselves. Even if the hay were to contain only 8.5% protein, no protein supplement would be needed. A commercial grain mix containing 14% protein or more would nicely fit into these same feeding situations. A mixture of 2/3 corn and 1/3 broiler litter may also be used, as indicated in Table 2.

I would not recommend that a producer feed less than 1% body weight of hay to lighter-weight stockers growing through the winter season. The risk of gut upset is fairly high when cattle eat less than that amount of high fiber feed each day.

A few of these feeds can be safely delivered via self-feeders. This method of feeding reduces labor associated with feeding greatly. Such feeds as Corn Gluten Feed, Soybean Hulls, Wheat Midds, and blends of these often merchandised as "Commodity Pellets" can be safely fed in this fashion. So can the mixture of corn and broiler litter. Adapt cattle to high levels of these grains over a period of about 2 weeks before allowing them to self feed. And continue to allow cattle access to hay at all times.

Mineral Supplements When feeding fairly high levels of grains of any type the mineral supplement needs are different. Because grains are so very low in Calcium content, but contain high levels of Phosphorous, the mineral supplement should be just the opposite. Mineral supplements containing a high Calcium content are needed. The rations in table 2 contain so much grain that actually no additional Phosphorous is needed. Consequently, a supplement containing just Calcium, plus trace minerals would be appropriate, such as a free choice blend of a 50:50 mixture of high Selenium Trace Mineralized Salt and Limestone.

Summary The poor quality hay that was made this year is quite low in nutrition, especially energy. Growing cattle need a fairly high energy intake in order to perform satisfactorily. Grain supplementation is needed when low quality hay is being fed. Most grain supplements will contain enough protein that no specific protein supplement is needed. However, high Calcium mineral formulations are needed when higher levels of grain are being fed.

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