This time of the year I am usually busy trying to frantically preserve the bounty from our summer garden.  Canning, dehydrating and freezing the fruits and vegetables that my family and I will enjoy during the winter. Forage producers are doing the same. Working through the summer to preserve the warm season perennial grasses that livestock producers need to meet the nutritional needs of their animals through the winter months.  But how do you know if you have enough?  Or if it’s what you need?

A very good friend of mine, who happens to have a doctorate in forage production, says it best – “Unless you test, it’s just a guess.”  Conducting a forage test on your hay or baleage will let you know the quality and help you better plan for winter feeding.  A forage analysis is the only way to assess the quality and nutritional content of the hay.  The quality of the forage will determine the amount needed during the winter feeding period and if additional supplementation is needed.

Once the producer has the forage quality analysis, they then can determine how much hay they will need.  A simple example the follows shows how a producer can determine their hay needs.

A producer has 50 mature brood cows at 1,200 lbs., 2 bulls at 2,000 lbs. and 10 weaned replacement heifers at 500 lbs. These animals will on average consume 2.5% of their bodyweight per day.  That means that for the herd, the daily hay requirement would be 375 lbs. The calculation of 375 lbs. of forage is on a dry matter basis. This means that if we bale the hay or receive hay at 85% Dry Matter (DM), 15 % is water and we do not account for that during feeding. So, a 1,000 lb. bale at 85% DM, would be 850 lbs. on a dry matter basis.

To continue on the calculation, we need to estimate our feeding period. For this example, we will say a producer needs to feed 120 days.  So, if we multiply this number by our daily requirement we get an estimation of 120 days X 375 lbs.= 45,000 lbs. DM forage.  If we assume the producer has 85% DM hay, then the as fed total would be 54,000 lbs.

To account for storage loss and feeding loss, we can conservatively add another 15% to the as fed total and get a total of 63,500 lbs.  In this situation, for this moderate size herd, we need roughly 63 – 1,000 lb. round rolls of hay.

Now, depending on where the producer’s brood cows are in their calving season during the winter feeding period will determine if further supplementation is needed. A great option to decrease the need for stored forage or hay is to overseed with high quality winter annual grasses.  A cow is much more efficient in harvesting forages than we are and these annual grasses can save time producing and feeding hay.

In the end livestock producers need to be thinking about the current hay inventory and start calculating for this coming winter. In certain situations, a concentrate supplement may work out to be cheaper than storing a lot of hay. Either way, at this point a producer needs to start planning their winter feeding program now, to avoid overpaying for any forage or supplement when supplies get tight.

If you need help pulling a forage test, interpreting your results, or calculating winter hay needs, feel free to contact me at 706-795-2281 or

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