A few basic steps can help you with hay feeding to make the most of this important feedstuff.

A wet spring across many areas tested even the most experienced haymakers, creating an abundance of lower-quality hay.

University of Illinois Extension specialists offer several recommendations for feeding poor-quality hay, but focus on these three important things:

  • Inspect the hay for mold, weeds, rank stems — factors that likely will reduce intake or cause problems.
  • Diversify your rations if you need to help dilute contaminated hay.
  • Supplement cattle to balance the reduced feed value of lower-quality hay.

Sampling and testing your hay is the only way to truly know your hay’s nutritive value. That knowledge can help you make the best use of your feed. For example, North Dakota State University Extension specialists recommend matching hay quality to your cattle’s production stage. NDSU also offers how-to advice on properly sampling and testing your hay. Once you’ve bagged your samples, check out the National Forage Testing Association’s list of certified labs.

Reduce storage losses

Cutting waste is one of the best ways to hold down feed costs. As you move hay home from fields or as purchased hay is delivered, consider how you store or position it for winter feeding. Obviously, outside-stored hay suffers the greatest losses — as high as 35 percent for round bales, depending on precipitation.

Evaluate economical options for covered hay storage. Protecting your hay crop may pencil out easier than you think. Target available indoor storage toward your highest-quality hay. If you must store hay outside, use well-drained sites, allow a minimum of three feet between bale rows, stay away from trees and other shady areas, and feed outdoor-stored hay first.

Proper winter nutrition helps cattle weather tough conditions, and high-quality hay is an important component in many beef operations. Be sure to give it the attention it deserves.