Ag Spotlight

Over the last two months, there has been a lot of hay made across Texas County.

As far as hay-making goes, it hasn’t been a bad year.  Wet weather in May always causes worry, but we did get some good dry periods for folks to get most of the hay cut, raked and baled.

For many cattlemen in the Ozarks it doesn’t feel like very long at all between putting the hay in the barn and starting to feed it out again. Whether you make hay or buy it, this time of year isn’t too early to start assessing your needs and taking stock of the hay that you have available.

First of all, it’s important to recognize that all hay is not the same. Visual assessment can give you some information, but you can’t really tell the nutritional value of hay without a hay test. Hay can be “put up right” and look and smell good, but still be inferior in quality. This is because the true feed value of hay is dependent of the maturity for the forage when it is cut. A hay test tells us how much protein and energy will be available to the livestock, as well as how much of the hay is indigestible roughage.

By understanding the quality of the hay, it can be determined how well it will meet the nutritional requirements of our livestock. Different classes of livestock have different nutritional needs (i.e. dry cows, lactating cows, stockers, horses, sheep, etc.) and understanding how well our hay meets these needs can help plan any supplemental feeding that may be required.

Some things you can do this time of year to help insure you meet your goals in feeding your livestock this winter include:

•Get your hay tested to better understand the true nutrient content. Hay should be tested by the field and by the cutting to identify differences in quality that may exist.

•Store your hay properly to protect the quality and reduce waste. Whether the hay is stored inside or outside, take proper care of it.

•Store the hay so that you can identify and access hay of different quality. This ensures that you are able to feed the hay to best meet the needs of your livestock.

•Determine your expected hay needs for the coming year based on the types of livestock you will be feeding. This is best done by converting both the animals and the hay into weights, rather than counting numbers of livestock and bales. A 1,400-pound cow is going to have different needs than an 1,100-pound cow, and bale weights can vary based on size, baler and type of forage. By taking stock of your feeding needs and hay inventory, its possible to make any adjustments that might be required. If you are going to run short on hay, it’s better to buy more now rather than wait until February when you run out.

If you have any questions or need more information about sampling hay, contact the Extension office.  Hay probes for sampling hay can be checked out free of charge and information about sampling hay and submitting hay tests is available. Also, livestock specialists can assist with interpreting test results, determining feeding needs and developing a plan for supplemental feeding. It’s not too early to start planning ahead – winter will be here before we know it.

For more information, call me or stop by the Extension office in Houston.

Eric Meusch is an agriculture educator with the University of Missouri Extension. To contact him, call the Extension office in Houston at 417-967-4545 or email The office is at 114 W. Main St. in Houston. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.

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