By the time you read this, everyone should be well on their way to harvesting their second cutting of hay. Spring rains provided plenty of moisture for ample hay quality and yield on our first hay cuttings. Dry weather in April allowed everyone an opportunity to harvest ryegrass and cool-season grasses while the crop was still rich in nutrients. If you are putting up balage, the abundant rain allowed you to harvest many tons of high-quality forage.
As we enter the summer months, we tend to start harvesting forage species that aren’t as capable of producing as much quality as the cool-season grasses. Warm-season grasses tend to be lower in both protein and carbohydrates (except the sorghum, millet and sorghum-sudan hybrids). Warm-season forages also tend to be higher in lignin; thus binding some of the protein and carbohydrates making the plant less digestible. In most places in Alabama, the tonnage produced by warm-season grasses outweighs the yields of the cool-season varieties. Also, the warm-season varieties are more easily cured and take less effort to harvest compared to the cool-season grasses.
There are some operations that have migrated to feeding corn silage to their cattle. Hopefully, your crop is still getting plenty of moisture and growing nicely. Corn silage as a feedstuff is hard to beat in beef operations, but, depending on the class of livestock, still may require extra nutrients to obtain suitable production.
This brief introduction describing forages gives some background for the need of supplementation for these forages to reach maximum production in beef operations. It is never too early to start planning the supplementation program that will be used to winter our cow herds. Some producers in the southernmost counties and Florida can use cool-season forage varieties to supplement their cattle, but most of us will be required to provide some feedstuffs to achieve maximum production.
Since most cattlemen in Alabama use summer perennials as their source of winter feed, we need to be prepared to provide nutrients to complement the weaknesses of the summer-annual forages. As stated earlier, these forages tend to be lower in protein and energy. I know many of you will argue that your Bermuda grass cut and fertilized every four weeks will typically analyze at 14 percent crude protein. If it does, that is great and can save on protein supplementation. However, in my 25 years of sampling forages, I have only seen this in one or two samples. If you think you are harvesting forages high in protein, sample them to be sure because this could save you plenty of money.
The supplement of choice for beef operations using summer-perennial grasses is easily our Brood Cow Supplement. This supplemental feed contains plenty of protein and energy to get maximum performance from your operation. Two other good choices include CPC Grower and CPC Developer. These feeds also contain adequate protein and energy for your operation. All of these feeds contain a nice complement of minerals and vitamins to ensure there is at least some mineral supplementation to go along with protein and energy.
While harvesting forages, producers can also experience bad luck and not be able to harvest the forages at the proper level of maturity or forages can take multiple rains that decrease both quality and palatability. While supplemental feed can help compensate for these problems, there are also other strategies producers can employ.
If producers run into this situation, my preferred method to get the most out of your hay is to use both supplemental feed and incorporate the use of low moisture tubs. There is surely a STIMU-LYX tub to fit your needs. The tub of choice to aid in the digestion of poor-quality hay is STIMU-LYX HLF 30. The non-protein nitrogen in these tubs should increase forage digestibility and intake. Just as a side note, these tubs also work well when there is excess poor-quality forage in the pasture or when forage has been stockpiled.
A final method that can be used to help with the digestibility of these poor-quality forges is liquid feed supplementation. Many Quality Co-op stores carry either Stimu-Liq 32 or Stimu-Liq 35-3. These liquid feeds must be fed in a liquid feeder and may not be offered in all locations, but they offer the same benefits as the low moisture tubs.
It may seem odd that we are discussing winter beef supplementation in July, but it is actually the perfect time. This time of year, while you are harvesting your winter feed, observe the quality of the forage and determine the type of supplement that will best fit with your forage. Summer may also be a time when pricing could be the most advantageous for your operation. Good luck with that hay crop and let us help when we can.