The time to start feeding hay varies throughout the Midwest, but with grass supplies short in drought-stricken areas, many producers have already started.
With harvest in full swing, some producers may turn to harvested corn fields to put pounds on gestating cows. Others may try soybean fields.
Anything you can do to push back feeding hay is beneficial, says Denise Schwab, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist in eastern Iowa.
“If you had drought conditions, you are likely already feeding hay,” she says. “Some areas had some rain, but in many areas, pastures are pretty short.”
Producers who are able to utilize crop residue can maintain gestating cows through much of the fall. Schwab says corn leaves and husks provide a good deal of feed value.
She says the last cutting of hay should have been done prior to Sept. 15, which allows the grass to rest ahead of winter. Pasture conditions should be monitored to make sure grass stands are sturdy.
It may be tempting to overgraze pastures, but that should be avoided, says Eric Bailey, Extension beef specialist with the University of Missouri.
“You will see pastures grazed down to nothing, but you want to start feeding hay when the grass height is 3 to 4 inches,” he says. “When you get below 1,000 pounds of available feed per acre, intake drops substantially. In a Missouri fescue field, each inch represents 300 to 400 pounds of feed.”
Producers also need to assess hay quality.
“Dry cows can get along just fine with average or lower- quality hay, but for those that are calving yet this fall, they need higher-quality hay,” Bailey says. “They are at their peak for nutrient requirements.”
He recommends hay be tested, adding supplementation may be necessary.
“With fescue and some other cool-season grasses, you still have 7 to 8% crude protein, and that’s plenty for a cow,” Bailey says. “Energy is usually more of an issue.”
Heifers have different requirements, and Bailey recommends that heifers be separated from older cows so they can get the feed they need.
“We like heifers to be at 60 to 65% of their mature weight when they are bred,” he says, adding heifers will continue to grow closer to their adult weight up until calving.
With winter approaching, Schwab says now is a good time to assess not only quality but quantity.
“If you think you don’t have enough hay, start looking at what you have,” she says. “Nutrient requirements in the second trimester are not as important as the third trimester. You don’t want to get to January or February and realize you need more feed to get them to calving.”