May 21 2013 09:10 AM

With record-low hay stocks, many farms will need to stretch their forage supplies.

hay The USDA recently released estimates for hay in storage, and it's not a pretty picture. Hay stored on U.S. farms as of May 1, 2013, totaled just 14.2 million tons, down 34 percent from a year ago. This is the lowest May 1 stock on record. Record-low May 1 hay stocks were also found in Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Last year's drought throughout the country caused a substantial decrease in hay production for 2012. Coupled with a cold, wet spring that has caused alfalfa winterkill and delayed the availability of pasture as a feed source, hay stocks have dwindled down to this record-low level.

What can farms do if they are running out of hay? Randy Shaver, dairy nutrition extension specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shared a few suggestions for stretching forage when supplies are short.

Consider a low forage diet
A low-forage ration change should be not be made without the supervision of your nutritionist. However, there may be opportunities to replace expensive forages with some more cost-effective or more available high-fiber by-products. This practice works in low-forage diets, as it raises diet NDF while reducing NFC, meeting the needs for both.

Be aware that NDF from high-fiber by-products is not as effective as the NDF from forages in maintaining normal milkfat test. One exception to this is whole cottonseed, with NDF effectiveness very similar to that of forage, making it a very common feed ingredient in low-forage diets.

NRC (2001) guidelines for minimum NDF from forage, minimum NDF in diet and maximum NFC in diet are highlighted in the chart below.

Minimum NDF from forage Minimum NDF in diet Maximum NFC in diet
19% 25% 44%
18% 27% 42%
17% 29% 40%
16% 31% 38%
15% 33% 36%

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Improve feed delivery and bunk management
Close attention should always be paid to proper feed delivery and feedbunk management practices, but this is especially important when ration changes are implemented to stretch feed supplies. Certain factors make a TMR more prone to sorting, including dry matter (DM) content and forage particle size, large pieces of cobs or husks, amount and quality of hay and improper sequence of feeds put into the mixer. At the bunk, frequency of feeding and push-up, availability of bunk space and bunk access time all impact the likelihood of sorting.

If sorting is a problem, consider the following management strategies: feeding smaller amounts more often, more hay processing, more corn silage processing, addition of water to dry TMR, and addition of a liquid feed supplement to TMR.

Implement forage testing
Forage quality this year could be inconsistent due to high crop variability, so forage testing will be extremely important to ensure proper ration formulation. It is critical to know the nutrient content of forages, especially when implementing a low forage diet.

To read the paper in its entirety, please click here.
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The author is an associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master's degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor's from University of Wisconsin-Madison.