Deciphering a hay test: Moisture

Having hay tested for nutrient quality is critical in getting the most out of the feedstuffs you have. Once the results come back, the next step is understanding the report you’ve received.

The first thing we notice on most feed or hay tests are the results are given in two different groups or columns. One is labeled along the lines of “as received” or “as fed” and another “dry basis.” Understanding the difference in these two columns is key to properly using the information provided when feeding your livestock.

“As received” represents the analysis of the sample as it was provided. This is what we will use to figure out rations or how much hay animals need to be provided. The “dry basis” is the sample after all moisture has been removed and doesn’t accurately represent the sample as it sits in the yard.

So why bother with “dry basis” if we don’t use it to figure feed amounts? Because when it comes to comparing feeds and finding the correct ratios in a ration, we need to compare things on an equal playing field.

For example, we could have a forage test on hay and silage come back as equal on a dry basis for energy, meaning that both feeds would provide the same amount of energy if dried out and fed. For the hay, this is pretty close to reality, but the silage contains much more water as is. Because of this, we would have to feed quite a bit more silage than hay to reach the same amount of energy in the ration, simply due to the extra weight from water.

“As received” and “dry basis” columns, may make a feed report look daunting, but understanding and using both is critical to getting the most out of your feed.

Alfalfa as a supplemental protein

Choosing the right protein may help bring the cost of feed down and more accurately meet the needs of our cattle. In some rations, alfalfa might be that choice.

Whether cattle are on winter range, corn stalks, or being fed prairie/grass hay, they often will need extra protein in their diet. Protein sources vary in cost and effectiveness. Protein is important because it is used by the rumen microbes to help break down low quality forage and then used by animal itself as microbial protein as they pass through the digestive tract. It’s essentially used twice.

Many times alfalfa is one of the cheapest natural source of protein, easy to use, and doesn’t require additional equipment. Non-protein sources of nitrogen such as urea may be cheap but won’t be as effective with low quality forage. The first steps to finding out how much extra protein your cattle need include testing your feeds and forages for protein and estimating consumption rate. Then determine the amount of supplementation needed which will depend if you are dealing with weaned growing calves, dry pregnant cows, or lactating cows and nursing calves.

Some winter diets such as winter range, corn stalks, or grass hay may require approximately 1 pound of extra protein per day. This can be supplemented every day or every other day and still keep cows productive, healthy, and meet requirements.

Cattle compaction in cropland

Are you looking for additional income from your corn acres? Grazing corn residue is a low-cost winter feed source for cattle and a source of additional income for farmers without negative effects on the cropland.

Many crop producers are concerned that trampling from cattle grazing corn residue negatively affects crop yields. But when grazed at proper stocking rates, small but positive effects on crop production after grazing have been observed.

Research conducted at the University of Nebraska has shown that grazing corn residue at the recommended stocking rate does not reduce corn or soybean yields in irrigated fields the following growing season.

In fact, a long-term study in eastern Nebraska at the Eastern Research and Extension Center showed 2 to 3 bushel per acre improvements for soybean production following grazed corn residue in a corn-soybean rotation. This result was the same whether cattle grazed in the fall from November through January or spring from February through April.

A five-year study in western Nebraska measured corn yields from continuous corn after cattle grazing in the fall and found no negative effects on corn yields the following year.

It must be noted that minor surface compaction can result from grazing during wet weather. However, this compaction often disappears through the natural wetting and drying and freezing and thawing processes. And the compaction level for restricting root growth does not carry over into the following growing season.

Grazing corn residue benefits both cattle and crop producers. Corn residue should be viewed as an economical source of winter roughage for cattle that can provide an extra source of income from corn production that does not affect next year’s crop production.

Test before feeding corn stalk bales

Corn stalk bales will provide much needed feed this winter for many producers. If you’re one of them, be sure to feed them effectively.

Baled corn stalks are a great feed option to consider, especially with the current high price of hay. However, before you feed those bales, find out what they have to offer nutritionally. Sample and test your bales as soon as possible so when snow gets deep or other feeds run out you will already know how to best feed your corn stalk bales.

Begin by testing the bales for protein and energy. You may be surprised at how variable the protein and energy content can be in corn stalk bales. I’ve seen protein as low as 3 percent and as high as 7 percent. Dry pregnant cows need 7 to 8 percent protein in their diet so high protein bales will need only a little extra protein to adequately care for the cows. But those 3 percent bales will need quite a bit of supplement to keep cows in good condition.

Use a protein supplement that is nearly all natural and has sufficient rumen degradable protein. Maintenance-level forage diets need degradable protein for the rumen microbes, but remember that urea and other non-protein nitrogen sources aren’t used as well.

Many bales have pretty good TDN (total digestible nutrients) levels, nearly 60 percent. Cows fed these bales should do very well up until calving with just corn stalk bales and adequate protein supplement. However, stalks that were weathered before baling can be below 50 percent TDN. Cows fed these lower quality bales will need some extra energy, too.

If your bales came from stressed stalks, like from drought or hail, also get a nitrate test to be sure they are safe.

Good testing of corn stalk bales can help make them a nutritious and safe feed.


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