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Supplementing and Extending Hay for the Winter

06 August 2013

Following a wet summer, many Ohio producers will be struggling to make enough hay this year, which is why Chris Penrose of Ohio State University Extension urges farmers to look at growing forage brassicas or rye/oat mixes.

Mr Pensrose asks the question, how fast does the quality go down? Two of my co-workers, Clif Little (Guernsey County Ag Educator) and Mark Landefeld (Monroe County Ag Educator) a couple years ago illustrated how fast hay quality declines and the need for supplementation for livestock in the winter.

Clif had taken samples of hay from a field on June 2 then on June 16 to illustrate how fast quality declines. Crude protein for this mixed grass field was 14.2 per cent on June 2, then dropped to 8.9 per cent two weeks later on June 16. Relative fed value dropped from 85 to 67. What is the quality like on July 1?

Even if our livestock get plenty of hay this winter, the quality may be so low that the hay cannot meet their nutritional needs. There will need to be supplementation. We have a couple options: we can purchase supplements or we can grow some crops for fall and winter supplementation. One product many producers buy is protein tubs.

While the animals really like these products, it does not address their most pressing need: energy. The most commonly used product used to supply energy is corn. Adding up to ? per cent body weight in corn or a by-product with similar energy to a diet can help balance nutritional needs.

What crops can we grow? The most common crops to grow in our region to provide additional quality and quantity for grazing are cereal rye, oats, and brassicas (turnips, rape, kale, etc.). All of these crops can have good protein and energy levels.

According to Stan Smith, OSU Extension, Fairfield County, if your primary need for forage is next spring, then your best option is cereal rye. It will grow much like wheat but reach about 6 to perhaps 10 inches in height yet this summer and fall, but after going dormant this winter will give most of it's abundant growth in the spring.

It's better than wheat because it is a little more cold tolerant, growing a little longer into fall, and breaking dormancy a little earlier in the spring than wheat. Also, there are Hessian fly issues that must be dealt with if wheat is planted before the fly free date. Although producing less tonnage than oats yet this calendar year, the cereal rye growth one could graze this fall would be very high quality feed . . . much higher in protein than oats likely would be.

If your primary need for forage is yet this year, then oats are a better option. They do not need to go dormant in order to elongate and provide abundant growth. Instead, when planted in mid to late summer they will reach maximum height and growth in about 75+/- days after planting.

By planting them after the summer solstice, they will generally remain vegetative and not make seed. Sometimes oats will push out what appears to be seed heads, but the hulls are typically hollow.

In addition, oats don't need to be chemically killed in order to plant a row crop next spring as rye would be (OSU Beef Team Newsletter #740). Both rye and oats can provide additional protein, energy and yield to help balance your livestock needs.

Another option is forage brassica crops such as turnip, swede, rape and kale. These crops are highly productive and digestible and can be grazed 70 to 150 days after seeding, depending on the species.

Brassicas can be seeded July or August for fall/winter grazing. All members of the brassica family - turnips, rape, kale, and swedes produce forage of exceptionally high (often 85-95 per cent ) digestibility. The leaves can be grazed from mid-September until January depending upon critical low temperatures and snow cover.

Top growth generally will survive temperatures between 15-20 degrees F, while bulbs will be about 5 degrees hardier. If temperatures fall below this level, it is best to try to graze prior to temperatures going above freezing.

The common purple top garden type turnip as well as other cultivars can yield over 10,000 lb/acre of dry matter. The tops average 12-20 per cent crude protein while roots contain 8-12 per cent protein. Maximum quality of the plants occurs around 75 days (purple top turnips tend to mature earlier than other cultivars) and maximum quality is around 90 days as the roots mature (but the tops start to decline).

Brassicas are very high in crude protein and energy, but extremely low in fiber. Their low fiber content results in rumen action similar to when concentrates are fed; thus the need for proper roughage supplementation.

Brassicas therefore should never comprise more than two-thirds of the forage portion of livestock diets with the remainder provided by grass hay or stockpiled pasture, which is why this is a good option if you have some poor quality hay to feed, especially in the fall.

Mix and match. A final twist to these options would be to mix or match these crops. Planting oats and rye together will provide additional yield in the fall from the oats and high quality feed late winter/early spring.

Planting oats and brassicass will provide high yields in the fall and the oats may provide some protection to for the turnips to tolerate colder weather. Planting turnips and rye will provide fall and late winter/early spring feed. I have even seen a farmer broadcast wheat in a field of turnips as sheep grazed in the fall providing feed in the spring. Even mixing oats, rye and brassicas together can be successful with many opportunities for feed.

In conclusion, if feed supplies are short, there is still time to produce additional quality feed. Oats, rye and brassicas offer a means for livestock producers to produce high quality forages to extend grazing into the fall, early winter and even late winter (cereal rye) and balance nutrition needs if there is poor quality hay or limited amounts to feed. The rapid growth and yield potential make these crops excellent low cost options.

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