Two weeks ago in this publication while we speculated on the quality of the forages we'd been able to harvest to that point around Ohio we asked, "Is it really better than snowballs?" This week, I can tell you that the early forage test returns suggest it might even be worse than we might have anticipated. To this point I've only seen the results from half dozen forage samples, but I suspect they are a good representation. Fact is, if fed as long stem hay in a bale ring, few samples I've seen are sufficient to maintain a mature dry cow in mid gestation. These forages certainly won't support the cow as she nears calving and lactation next spring!

Here's what the forage samples I've seen exhibit.

* The first sample of an orchard grass-timothy-fescue hay was made May 29 in southern Ohio, and had a crude protein of 8.99 (dry matter basis). The most recent sample shows crude protein at only 6.24%. And, there was lots of first cutting hay made around Ohio after that!

* In the first field mentioned above, subsequent cuts made on the first cutting declined about 1% in protein per week of harvest delay. ADF and NDF went up comparably (indicating poorer quality) in the subsequent cuts.

* For those who prefer to look at and talk Relative Feed Values, we're talking mostly 80's and low 90's, also declining as harvest was delayed by weather conditions and workload.

As described in the OSU Extension Fact Sheet, Forage Testing for Beef Cattle, ADF (acid detergent fiber) is an indication of the cellulose and lignin content of a forage. NDF (neutral detergent fiber) is determined from the amount of cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose in the forage.

As harvest is delayed, regardless the reason, ADF and NDF values in forages increase, and digestibility, and the ability of a cow to consume enough forage in 24 hours to satisfy her daily nutritional needs declines. The challenge of effectively managing and utilizing the forage quality we have stored brings us to essentially three alternatives: a) increase the digestibility of the forage, b) supplement the forage with concentrate which meets the needs of the cow, or c) reduce the nutritional needs of the brood cow. In coming weeks, we'll explore each of those options in more detail.

Also, you should make plans now to attend the Ohio Cattlemen's Summer Roundup on August 27 when making 'feed' from poor quality forages will be one of the topics explored on that day. More details will be available soon at http://ohiocattle.org .

In the mean time, get your forages tested and inventoried! What you discover will likely have long term implications on the profitability of your herd.