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Preparing for the winter - focus on forage
by Jaymelynn Farney, Beef Systems Specialist
Mother nature has been rather fickle for the past 365 days, in Kansas we have seen flooding, droughts, blizzards, extreme heat, extreme winds, and hail, to name some of the biggest events. According to Kansas Mesonet data there was 15 inches of rainfall (October 1, 2018 to October 1, 2019) in Grant county (Southwest; average annual rainfall 12 inches) while Parsons (Southeast; average annual rainfall 42 inches) has seen 70 inches of rainfall in that same time period. With all these extremes in weather, our forages have shown quite a bit of variability in quality.
There are numerous factors that influence forage quality. Table 1 outlines what effects might have impacted plant growth, harvest, and what we may anticipate about the harvested forages nutritional quality. Additionally, after the long, cold winter of 2018-2019, many producers fed their entire supply of harvested forages and in attempt to replenish supplies may have been less selective in what to harvest. For example, hay was harvested from pastures after being grazed (largely stems and seeds heads), from pastures with mature forage, or mis-managed pastures. Hay from these sources might not exceed wheat straw in quality.
Now what? Since there is a wide variety of weather events that can impact forage quality, prior to winter feeding, it will more than pay to test hay for nutrient composition. An investment of $15-60 per sample for forage analysis gets rid of the guesswork and allows for proper balancing of diets. For example, a 1,400-pound mature cow in the last 1/3 of pregnancy needs 2.1 pounds/day of protein. If you assumed a book value of 8.33% crude protein for sudangrass then cows have enough protein to meet requirements (at a 30 pound of dry matter intake); however, if hay forage analysis says crude protein was actually 4.5% then you are underfeeding protein by 0.71 pounds/day. The protein deficiency will negatively affect colostrum, calving ability, and/or condition. Many times we think additional protein is all that needs to be supplied over the winter, but with some of the forages tested this year, that is not the case. For example, that same 1,400-pound mature, pregnant cow in the last trimester needs 14.5 pounds of TDN per day. Book value of 54.5 % TDN for sudangrass (Table 2) offers enough energy to meet cow requirements (assuming intake of 30 lbs DM), however, if TDN content is only 43.3, cows are short 1.25 pounds TDN per day. Depending on the length of time feeding this hay, cows may lose enough body condition prior to calving to once again impact ease of calving, colostrum quality and potentially re-breeding that following spring. Table 2 is a summary of some of the average forage values that have been received through extension offices in the Southeast and Central portion of the state for hay harvested this year as well as the “normal book value” of the forages. As the table summarizes, some of the average values match with “book values” however the ranges are very large for each of the measures reported.
How soon can I see a return on investment of my forage test? Take a forage you assumed was 6% crude protein but was actually 7% crude protein. Since you assumed 6% crude protein you develop a supplement program of providing 1.4 pounds of a 20% supplement that cost $400/ton. The supplement cost for 60 days is $16.80/cow. If you have more than 2 cows, you have more than covered the cost of the test (basic nutrient test ~$15 plus shipping) in supplement savings.
Table 1: Impact of weather on forage growth, harvest and potential forage quality
Plants mature more rapidly
Hay harvest delayed
Increased lignin and fiber; lower protein, and energy values
Less nitrogen available(?)
Hay yield affected (? – no change to negative)
Leached soil nitrogen may reduce forage crude protein
Minimal dry days between rains
Forage is correct maturity for harvest
Hay baled too wet or rained on in windrow
Molds may form; bales heat and damages protein
More than adequate rain and temperatures
Plants grew very well
High biomass (tonnage) harvested
lower protein and energy, more lignin (Figure 1)
High weed populations
Weeds harvested with desirable forage
Weeds unpalatable and dilutes nutritional quality
Weeds harvested with desirable forage
high nitrate in weeds limit forage use
Weeds take longer to dry than grasses
Molds decrease palatability and produce toxins; bales head and damage protein
Slow plant growth, maturity delayed
Low hay yield
Quality, especially protein tends to be higher (Figure 1)
Stress impairs plant nitrogen use
Hay harvested as normal
High nitrates forage in some species
Table 2: Average and ranges (in italics) of nutrient content (DM basis) of 2019 forage samples from southeastern and central Kansas, book values (in shaded rows).
Hay type (# samples in averages)
Crude protein, %
10.1 – 25.3
48.4 – 67.7
0.41 – 0.76
0.17 – 0.43
6.78 – 9.82
50.07 – 56.11
0.44 – 0.53
0.19 – 0.28
6.95 – 8.28
43.65 – 45.58
0.33 – 0.38
0.09 – 0.14
Crabgrass harvested every 49 days5
7.08 – 11.73
46.44 – 52.33
0.38 – 0.47
0.14 – 0.22
Mixed grass (8)
4.17 – 10.59
38.98 – 42.65
0.26 – 0.56
0.02 – 0.23
Native prairie hay4
4.52 – 10.87
38.41 – 47.71
0.25 – 0.40
0.01 – 0.16
1 TDN, total digestible nutrients
2 NEm stands for net energy for maintenance in megacalories per pound on dry matter basis
3 NEg stands for net energy for gain in megacalories per pound on dry matter basis
4 Shaded rows are “book values” from Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, 8th Revised Edition (2016)
5 Beck et al., 2007. J. Anim. Sci. 85:527-535
Figure 1: Trends in forage biomass, quality, and plant composition with stage of plant production
This figure demonstrates the inverse relationship between yield and forage nutrient content (protein, energy, minerals, digestibility, etc). Ideal hay/ensiling time occurs when trying to optimize yield and forage quality. Some examples of what yield and quality might be in forage based on drought conditions (box on left) or delayed harvest (box on right), are illustrated in the figure
Calving Schools Planned
In anticipation of calving season, KSU ASI and K-State Research and Extension are planning a series of calving schools beginning in November and finishing up in January.
The program will outline overall calving management that includes stages of the normal calving process as well as tips to handle difficult calving situations. A.J. Tarpoff, K-State extension beef veterinarian, explains the goals of the event are to increase knowledge, practical skills and the number of live calves born if they need assistance.
The schools will also share tips on when and how to intervene to assist the cow and how those times may be different when dealing with young heifers. Presenters will also demonstrate proper use of calving equipment on a life-size cow and calf model.
"Our goal is for producers to leave better prepared for calving season," Tarpoff adds. "We will discuss timelines on when to examine cows for calving problems, and when to call your vet for help if things are not going well. It's an excellent program regardless of experience level."
Several of the meetings will also cover topics such as body condition scoring (BCS) cows, colostrum management, and animal health product storage and handling.
Meetings scheduled include:
• Tuesday, Dec. 10, evening, Alfalfa County Fairgrounds, Cherokee, Oklahoma; RSVP to Barber County Extension Office at 620-886-3971. Or email Justin Goodno at email@example.com
• Thursday, Jan. 9, evening, Edwards County Fair Building, Kinsley, Kansas; RSVP to Edwards County Extension Office at 620-659-2149. Or email Martin Gleason at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Tuesday, Jan. 14, evening, Franklin County Fairgrounds- Celebration Hall, Ottawa, Kansas; RSVP to Marais des Cygnes District Extension Office at 913-294-4306. Or email Katelyn Barthol at email@example.com
• Thursday, Jan. 16, midday, Lane County Fair Building, Dighton, Kansas; RSVP to Walnut Creek District Extension Office at 785-222-2710. Or email Jared Petersilie at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Thursday, Jan. 16, Trego County Fairgrounds, Commercial Building, Wakeeney, Kansas; RSVP to Golden Prairie District Extension Office at 785-743-6361. Or email Clint Bain at email@example.com
• Thursday, Jan. 23, KSU Polytechnic College Center, Salina, Kansas; RSVP to Central Kansas District Extension Office at (785) 309-5850. Or email Cade Rensink at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kansas State University's Animal Sciences and Industry Department hosted Cattlemen's Day 2019 on Friday, March 1 at Weber Hall in Manhattan. Dr. Brad Morgan, Performance Food Group senior director of protein, kicked off the event by discussing the potential for plant-sourced "meat" and laboratory-produced "meat" to take market share from the meat industry.
Tally Time: Management Minder outlines your production year
Technology has been developed that makes many things in our lives much easier. Some of you may remember when you were the “remote control” when your Dad was watching TV. Now, new homes have heating, alarm and lighting systems throughout that can be controlled remotely with a smart phone. Cattle producers use electronic IDs to automate many data collection activities. Computer applications seem to only be limited by our imagination.
Our beef extension educational efforts have often pointed out timely management topics. For example, now is the time to sample harvested forages and get an analysis of the quality. Some of those items would relate to time of year, while others would depend on the individual operation’s calving and breeding dates. So, while those suggestions are timely for most (we hope), they certainly do not fit everyone.
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The K-State beef extension team strives to address all phases of beef production from "farm to fork".