Winter challenges ahead: Grain prices up and hay quality down

Grain prices are high, forage in many parts of the country is in short supply and winter is coming. As producers look forward into the coming months, it can look a bit discouraging but it is not hope- less. Markets and forage vary year to year and, thankfully, there are many things each producer can do to not only survive the coming months but improve their profitability at the same time. In past articles I have written extensively about the need to test all forages before feeding them. It is especially important this year because, much like the 2019 hay crop, the 2021 hay crop for much of the U.S. is poor quality. It was cut late, flooded out, rained on and in general hard to put up in the spring and then dry and poor growing the rest of the summer. The rapid growth from the high rainfall totals in the spring lead to forage that may have looked good but, unfortunately, did not have the nutritive value of years past. The drier weather pattern that followed for the rest of the summer lead to many forages pro- ducing fewer total tons of hay in the following cuttings. Our farm was no exception this year. This was magnified once we tested all of the stored cuttings. Typically, our blended alfalfa hay tests at 145 or higher RFV (relative feed value). This year our best hay only tested 105.80 RFV.

Once the quality of forage was revealed through testing, it became obvious that in the coming months additional (and more ex- pensive than years past) grain sup- plementation will have to be fed. This will be the heart of the prob- lem for many producers this year. I have said it many times over the years, but I will say it again. If it has not already been done, test all forages! Testing a

willingly eat each day.

It is important to note that this forage looks good. Upon visual inspection it would generally be expected to test very good. Our for- age is not unusual this year. As we have tested forages for other pro- ducers this year, high quality forage has really been hit or miss. Without testing, many stock may be left in a negative calorie state even with full bellies due to the nutritive value of many forages sitting so low. Please remember; forage quality CAN NOT be deter- mined by visual appearance only.

Once forages are properly analyzed and accounted for, every producer should inspect their livestock individually. When it is cold, wet, and nasty outside it can be hard to want to handle each goat at least once a month but it is the most accurate way of deter- mining the body condition score (BCS).

It is imperative to document

Your hay may look good but it is imperative that you test it — especially this year after a difficult growing season.

forage is the greatest way to determine the quantity and type of sup- plementation that may be needed. When tested, some of our blended alfalfa forage this year was as low as 13.17% protein with a RFV of only 104.31.

This is not terrible forage but in years past this cutting would have tested at 17-19% protein and have had an RFV of 145 or greater. Additionally, our forages have unusually high levels of acid detergent and neutral detergent fiber will reduce the quantity my stock will

6 Goat Rancher | November 2021 You must handle the animal.

Once a producer knows the BCS of their stock they can then use the results of their forage testing to determine the kind and quan- tity of supplement that will need to be offered. Grain is a supplement and as such should reflect the forage program for which it is supple- menting.

This grain supplement should cover the elements that are lack- ing in the base forage program in the most efficient manner. If the

each goat’s overall condition at least once every 30 days to mini- mize a producer’s risk of under or overfeeding stock. Winter hair coats can make visually assessing conditioning difficult as it is thicker and can make stock look fleshier than they really are. Evaluating at least once a month is also a great way to check the progress of your feed- ing program. The costs to the pro- ducer when a consistent BCS evaluation is not completed can be particularly troublesome as the cost to regain weight on an under- weight animal will cost consid- erably more than the cost of just maintaining an animal. Please remember, just like with forage quality, you CAN NOT judge body condition scor- ing by visual appearance only.


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