Hay in a Ration

 Knowledge Nuggets | Fact Sheets

Knowledge Nuggets

  • Feed is the major cost in cattle production and a low cost ration is based on quality forage. This is especially true when grain prices are high.
  • For good-quality hay, harvest early. Rain damage will reduce hay yields and cause bleaching, however rain does relatively little damage to hay quality as measured by forage digestibility, crude protein, and intake compared to maturity.
  • Forage testing indicates hay quality. When dealing with forage quality, consider digestible energy, crude protein, and the potential dry matter intake.
  • The digestible energy in hay provides the needed energy for growth, milk production, or body maintenance. Digestible energy decreases as hay maturity increases and as fiber increases.
  • Much of the protein is broken down by rumen bacteria and used in digestion of carbohydrates (cellulose, sugars, and starches) in the forage and supplemental grains. This produces more bacteria which are digested in the true stomach of the animal.
  • Dry matter intake (DMI) of feed influences 85% of animal performance on forage based diets. As forage digestibility increases, DMI also increases providing more energy available to the animal for growth and milk production. Therefore, hay quality is best described as how much the animal can eat and can range from as low as 1.7% to as high as 3.0 % of animal body weight.
  • Relative Feed Value (RFV) is an indexing system used to classify forages. It is a combination of the forage's digestibility and DMI. Hay with an RFV of 115 will provide about 15% more digestible energy than a feed with an RFV of 100.
  • Livestock eat more legume mixed forage than straight grass forage. Grass-legume hays are higher in crude protein at the same stage of maturity than most straight grass hays.
  • Visual estimates are valuable when assessing hay quality, but are unreliable in assessing nutrient levels. Plant maturity (stems) indicates nutrient content, leaf density indicates protein content, and color indicates proper curing. Also dust, mold, foreign material and aroma may affect dry matter intake.
  • Strive to harvest hay early to improve the overall quality of the hay for more flexibility to mix and match with lower quality straw or chaff to lower feeding costs.
  • Feed according to feed requirements. Overfeeding of nutrient requirements is more common than underfeeding and is expensive. By feeding according to nutrient needs and by reducing wastage, more feed can be sold in the spring or stored over for next year's feeding period.
Fact Sheets

Coping with Poor Hay Crop Quality - Ontario

Corn Stalklage and Wheat Straw in Wintering Beef Cow Diets - Ontario

Hay Quality -The Foundation for Low Cost Winter Feeding - available in PDF format only

Reducing Losses when Feeding Hay to Beef Cattle - also available in PDF format

Limit Fed Energy Rations - Alberta

Matching Hay Quality to Cow Needs - available in PDF format only

Using Straw in Cattle Rations - Alberta
  For more information about the content of this document, contact Grant Lastiwka.
This document is maintained by Mary Ann Nelson.
This information published to the web on October 6, 2003.
Last Reviewed/Revised on October 6, 2015.

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