March 03, 2024

Determining hay quality increases accuracy of ration formulations

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Testing hay will help to predict animal performance.

“We test hay to use it properly,” said Ron Tombaugh, a director of the Illinois Forage and Grassland Council.

“The ability for forage to support desired levels of animal performance is a function of both voluntary intake and nutrient intake. Knowing the quality of hay helps producers increase the accuracy in ration formation,” said Tombaugh, who owns Dart Hay Service near Streator and has been involved with producing hay for about 50 years. “My goal is to raise 6-ton hay at 175 relative feed value with 22% protein.”

When sampling his 3-by-4 bales, Tombaugh inserts the hay probe from 24 to 30 inches into the bale.

“Don’t sample hay right after you bale it because all hay goes through a sweat,” he explained during a presentation at the Illinois Beef Expo. “Wait about three weeks and if the hay is stored outside, it should be sampled two to four weeks before feeding it.”

For both small square and large square bales, Tombaugh said, probe from the end of the bale, close to the center.

“For a round bale, take the sample from the curved side of the bale,” he said. “Try to do random sampling as best as you can.”

Reports from sampling labs provide a lot of information about the quality of the hay.

“Crude protein is the building blocks of muscle tissue so all animals need protein at varying degrees,” Tombaugh said. “Younger animals as they are growing will need more than dry cows.”

The acid detergent fiber number indicates how much fiber is in the hay.

“A higher ADF makes the hay less digestible,” Tombaugh said, citing total digestible nutrients. “And TDN is an estimate of energy.”

The way bales are stored will impact hay loss.

“If you have a large percentage of the round bale in contact with the ground, you’ll have more loss, but it you store it on pallets or coarse rock, the loss will decrease,” Tombaugh said. “If you elevate it and wrap it, the losses decrease more.”

“Store round bales in high, well-drained ground in rows with the flat edges touching and try to orient the rows north to south,” he said. “Store the bales close to your feeding area.”

The value of hay loss during storage can be significant.

“If you have a 5% loss of hay that’s worth $120 per ton, that’s $6, and if it’s a 25% loss that’s $30,” Tombaugh said. “If you have 40% loss, that’s close to $50 per ton.”

Instead of cutting his hay close to the ground, Tombaugh raises his machine about 2 inches.

“That elevates the windrow so you get more airflow underneath it and it won’t damage the crown as much,” Tombaugh said.

“I leave the windrow as wide as I can without running on it because the wheel track will not dry evenly,” he said.

Tombaugh uses a bar rake in his operation.

“My experience with wheel rakes is they pick up more dirt off the ground unless the wheel rake is set perfect,” he said.

Making Baleage

Kendall Guither has been making baleage on his farm near Walnut for the past 25 years.

“Baleage made right is a near perfect feed,” said Guither, who also spoke during the Illinois Beef Expo. “It has long stems to promote cud chewing and the benefit of fermentation which starts the digestive process.”

Another advantage of baleage is a narrower harvest window compared to harvesting dry hay.

“About 90% of the time I cut the hay one day and bale it the next,” Guither said. “If there’s high humidity and lots of clouds it might take a third day.”

Guither targets from 44% to 58% moisture in his baleage.

“That is enough moisture for good fermentation because if you limit fermentation, that invites mold growth,” he said. “If it is too wet you get butyric acid formation and that makes the hay sour.”

The hay producer uses rotary rakes and mergers for his operation.

“I like to put four windrows together because that speeds up the baling process,” he said.

The baleage is wrapped within three hours of baling.

“I normally use eight layers and it is important to use a high-quality plastic with tackifier because you have to stick the layers together for sealing to keep the air out,” Guither said.

The wrapped bales are stored in an area with good drainage. Bait stations for mice are placed in the storage area.

“I use to have 30% to 50% of the bales with holes from mice, but now I’m down to six to 12 bales a year out of 5,000 bales,” Guither said.

He makes 3-by-3 bales for baleage and his goal is to get the bale density as high as possible.

“Never use sisal twine on the bales you are going to wrap because it has oil in it and that will rot the plastic,” he said.

It is important to keep the dirt out of baleage.

“If the ash is above 9%, that’s a problem,” Guither said. “For each 1% above that, you will reduce feed intake.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor