Minimizing hay waste is a good place to start when trying to reduce cow feed costs. Hay rings will reduce hay waster, especially those featuring a solid bottom. Research has shown that limiting a cow’s access time to hay will reduce hay waste with only small changes to cow weight loss or body condition change. The study allowed cow access time to round bales of 4, 8, 12 and 24 hour periods. Results revealed 37 percent, 17, percent and 4.4 percent reduction in hay dry matter disappearance for the 4, 8, and 12 hour access periods compared to the 24 hour access period.
Another approach is to utilize other forage sources. In eastern Oklahoma other options would be utilizing small grains (wheat and rye) or annual ryegrass, or enhancing fescue with spring fertilization. Proper fertility greatly enhances ryegrass, small grain and fescue forage production. Fertilizer is expensive, but so are hay and supplemental protein. At current fertilizer prices, fertilizing fescue in late February and grazing with cows in March and April would be more cost effective that meeting cow needs with purchased hay and supplements.
Small grains grazed a half-day; three times per week will meet the protein needs of lactating cows for a seven day period. A 0.5 acre stockpiled and appropriately fertilized small grain would provide protein supplementation from mid-February to the end of April if grazed as described above.
Another method to stretch forage supplies is to feed an ionophore. The ionophores, Rumensin and Bovatex improve feed utilization of cattle by altering rumen fermentation patterns which improve the metabolizable energy contents of feeds. Rumensin is the only ionophore currently approved for mature, reproducing beef cows. Research shows Rumensin can reduce hay intake by 10 to 15 percent. The estimated cost to include Rumensin into a mineral supplement is 2 to 3 cents per cow per day. Warning, Rumensin is toxic to horses.
Cull your cowherd. Open cows are non-productive. Pregnancy check and mouth (age) all cows. At present operation costs non-pregnant and low producing cows are a drain on your resources.
Forage test various hay cuttings for protein value. Save higher protein hays for use with lactating cows that have high protein needs. Do not over or under supplement cows because of lack of knowledge.
All sorghum or millet type hays (including johnsongrass hays) should be tested for nitrates. Too high a nitrate level in hay will reduce cow production, can cause abortions, or can cause cow deaths.