Fall brood cows need quality hay

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By David Harrison

Some beef producers think brood cows don’t need high quality hay going into winter because cows’ nutritional needs are lower if they are not in late gestation or have a calf at their side. However, winter feeding costs constitute up to half the expenses of keeping brood cows. 
Feeding brood cows high quality hay is especially important for beef producers who use a fall calving season. Hay quality is important for them because cows are lactating and will re-breed in late winter. Cows need to be in good body condition to re-breed satisfactorily and have higher nutritional needs, especially energy and protein.
Hay stored outside suffers substantial losses of yield and quality. Weathering losses in round bales are deceptively large. In fact, just a four-inch layer of damaged material on the surface can contain up to one-third of the entire bale volume. A 1,200-pound bale of hay would therefore actually provide only 800 pounds of feed. Weathered hay is also much less palatable.
There are several economical options to preventing weather-related quality losses. One is inside storage. This can really reduce storage losses, especially for higher quality hay. However, it’s important to have bales at or below 18-percent moisture before you stack them inside to avoid heating. Too high moisture hay can overheat and reduce the hay’s nutritional value or cause spontaneous combustion (fire).
Another option is to use low-cost storage systems such hoop structures or pyramid stacks. To reduce hay storage losses, break bale contact with the ground by using a gravel base, other similiar substance, or stacking bales. Cover stacked bales with plastic to prevent rain water from directly penetrating into lower layers. Choose a site that drains away from the bales. Another way to reduce winter feeding costs is to stockpile fescue to extend the grazing season further into winter.