Even with an abnormally wet spring and summer in many parts of the Midwest, it is probably safe to say that producers all have at least one cutting of hay completed at this point. From the producers and extension specialists I have talked to, however, quality of that hay is widely variable.

While the temperature says it is still summer, many producers who have either low quality or a reduced volume of forage from this summer may already be behind the eight ball in terms of winter feed planning. As we move into a period of the year where many producers may only have one more cutting of hay available, it is imperative that a winter feed budget is developed now to prevent a shortfall when feed prices will undoubtedly increase after the first of the year.

Here are a few things to consider when balancing winter feed needs and costs without sacrificing animal performance this winter:

1)    Get weights on cows as well as forage. Most producers tend to underestimate the weight of their cows, and overestimate the weight of their bales. Having a correct cow weight will allow you to develop the most appropriate ration/supplementation scheme.

2)    Remember that what is baled is not what the cows either have the opportunity to consume or will consume. Consider the current storage method and estimate the amount of storage loss as well as potential feeding losses that may occur. BRANDS ration balancing software.

has a great calculator in the appendix that helps predict feed waste based on amount of “rot” of a bale. Additional storage and feeding losses are also outlined in this fact sheet on the IBC website.

3)    Consider using cornstalks, either grazed or baled, to extend forage supplies. However, use caution when relying on stalks for winter forage. Hope for the best but expect the worst as a wet fall can result in poor quality stalks, poor grazing conditions and a baled product that has more value as bedding than feed.

4)    Plan ahead. Hay prices are as low as we have seen in a few years. If projected forage resources are short, consider buying hay now while prices are still low.

5)    Test forages (all cuttings, all types). In my opinion, this is the best money spent on any feeding program and likely the best return on investment for the entire enterprise. If you are overfeeding, you are wasting money. If you are underfeeding, you are losing money through loss of production.

6)    Work with a multitude of outlets to identify economical protein or energy supplements available in the area. Then, work with your nutritionist or extension specialist to develop least-cost diets that meet the needs of your cows for all winter production stages. Make sure you only supplement protein when necessary; likewise with energy. Don’t buy or feed what you don’t need.

7)    Finally, add 30 days to your typical winter feeding timeline. Cool, wet springs have delayed pasture turnout the past two years. Turning cows out too early next spring because harvested feeds are gone is a potential recipe for pasture disaster.