The 2015 growing season has proven to be challenging to producers in Ohio. Nearly all crops have been impacted by plentiful and in many cases too much rain. Forage production is certainly no exception to this reality as both hay and pasture production have felt the effects of excessive moisture. One doesn't want to complain too loudly about excessive rainfall given that large areas of the country are still under significant drought. However, this growing season has created some significant management decisions for forage producers.
Very little hay production has not been impacted by excessive rains. Timely harvest has been nearly impossible as evidenced by the fact that some first cuttings have yet to be completed and second cuttings have been significantly delayed. This reality will probably reduce yields in some cases and will certainly reduce feed quality nearly everywhere. There are numerous research studies that indicate significant delays in harvest date will result in lower protein content as well as higher acid detergent fiber and neutral detergent fiber levels.
Results from evaluations at the 2015 Ohio Beef Cattle School indicate the use of laboratory analysis to determine feed quality is a woefully underutilized management tool by producers. When asked "Which of the following best describes your approach to using feed evaluation tests to determine feed quality?", attendees gave the following responses:
A. I conduct feed analysis on primary feed groups annually. 20%
B. I conduct feed analysis on primary feed groups only when feed costs are high. 0%
C. I conduct feed analysis on primary feed groups only when feeds have been impacted by weather conditions. 4%
D. I rarely conduct feed analysis on primary feed groups. 37%
E. I never conduct feed analysis on primary feed groups. 38%
As you can see, 75% of the respondents indicated that they rarely or never conduct a feed analysis. Given the anticipated reduction in feed quality due to delayed harvest, 2015 would be the perfect time to start doing analysis of your forages. An analysis of your hay supply will allow you to determine the feed value of the forage which will help you to make educated decisions in regards to next winter's feeding program. You will know if you have adequate quality for growing animals and females in late gestation or early lactation. If the feed quality is below the required values, the producer can make plans to purchase grains or higher quality hay to compensate for potential ration shortcomings. By performing a timely forage analysis, the producer may also be able to make supplemental feed purchases when supplies and prices may be more favorable.
Pasture situations have been impacted by excessive rains as well but the issues are uniquely different from hay production. Pasture growth has been impressive with the notable exception of poorly drained fields. There have also been excellent growing conditions for weeds. Thankfully, pasture weed control doesn't require a potential three day drying window as does hay production. It does require solid ground conditions to clip or spray pastures for weed control management. Probably the biggest issue created by saturated soils has been foot traffic damage to forage and the soil surface by grazing livestock.
The upcoming fall season offers some options to improve or supplement grazed forages. If pasture damage is significant, interseedings or complete renovations need to be completed by early to mid-September across Ohio. Annual forages such as oats or rye may be planted as a part of a renovation plan for pastures to be seeded in the spring of 2016 or in fields that were not planted earlier in 2015. Do not forget about the tried and true practice of stockpiling. Stockpiled forage growth can begin by mid-July in northern Ohio and August 1 in southern Ohio. 50 lbs. of actual nitrogen per acre applied when the stockpiling period is initiated offers an opportunity to optimize forage yield and quality.
There is no doubt that the growing season in 2015 has created issues for forage and beef cattle producers. We can currently see the impacts of excessive moisture in forage fields around the state in the form of overly mature hay fields and damaged pastures. Unfortunately, these impacts can have long-term impacts on the performance of beef cattle. I encourage you to utilize feed analysis and other aggressive management practices to minimize the damage we have experienced in our hay and pasture fields to help insure a productive and profitable beef enterprise.