Looks good, smells good, isn’t good

An Alberta Agriculture beef specialist says that ideal growing conditions in many areas should mean above-average first-cut hay yields, but nutrient content is another matter.

“With higher yields, the nutrients available from the soil are distributed in the plant material, and nutrients are diluted down and are not as concentrated as in other years,” Barry Yaremcio says in an Agri-News release. “For example, protein content in the hay can be at eight to 10 per cent rather than an average of 12 to 14 per cent. Macro- and micronutrients can be one-third to one-half lower than average.”

Yaremcio recommends a fortified trace mineral salt with selenium is strongly recommended, as blue salt will not meet the animals’ trace mineral requirements in most situations.

“This year’s hay that has a nice smell and good colour may not have the kick it needs to keep the cows in good condition and calves growing,” Yaremcio says.

“Just because the hay is green does not mean that it has adequate amounts of protein and energy — the two most important nutrients. Hay that is overmature, or if there were cool, cloudy conditions for most of the growing season, can result in low-protein and high-fibre (low energy) hay.”

Yaremcio says that as hay matures, protein, energy, calcium and phosphorus levels decline. The reduction in quality becomes more pronounced after grasses have headed out and legumes have set seed. Cut the hay according to maturity and weather conditions not the date on the calendar.

“The only way to know what your animals are receiving in their ration is to send samples away for analysis,” adds Yaremcio. “Spending $50 to $60 per sample of hay or silage is the only way to know the quality. Balance the ration and prevent feed-related problems before growth rates, reproduction, or herd health are reduced.”

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