Hay Hey Hey
by Mike Mehren Ph.D.

At the very least this will be an interesting year for hay. Most of the first cutting and some of the second cutting grown in Eastern Oregon and the Columbia Basin of Washington got heavily rain-damaged. A lot of the hay was taken off the field just to get it out of the way of the crop growing underneath it. I've seen a lot of brown-colored, moldy hay that probably shouldn't be fed to any animal. Hay that has heated has 'burned' up a portion of the TDN and also caused some of the protein to be unavailable to the animal.

I talked to a hay grower recently who said that he had part of a circle of hay that had a delightful caramel odor. Hay or silage that has a caramel odor has heated to the point that a good portion of the energy and protein has been used up. It may be poor feed, but cows seem to love it.

It might not be a bad idea to starting thinking about alternatives. Straw, when used correctly, makes an excellent substitute for hay. However, you must recognize that not all straw is the same! Look at the table below to see some of the differences and then remember that any particular straw can vary tremendously based on things such as type of grain or grass, time between harvest and baling, rain damage, moisture, and nutrients available to the plant.

Straw Type
-------------- % as Fed ---------------
Wheat Straw (ammoniated)
Barley Straw
Bluegrass Straw (irrigated)
Bluegrass Straw (dryland)
Fescue Straw

As you can see in the table, ammoniating straw is an excellent way to improve the protein and TDN of the straw. You might contact your local fertilizer dealer to find out if they know how to do it. Anhydrous ammonia is used, but should only be handled by experts!

You will also note in the table that there is a big difference in grass straw that comes from an irrigated field versus a dryland field. In general the irrigated varieties are higher in quality and palatability than the dryland varieties. Bluegrass, bentgrass, perennial fescue and ryegrass are normally the highest quality grass straws.

It's also important to determine whether a straw could possibly have endophyte contamination. This is a fungus that is bred into turf varieties of fescue and ryegrass. Amount fed and length of time of straw feeding is quite important. The Vet Diag. Lab at OSU can determine endophyte levels. Test before you feed if you plan on long term straw- feeding.

A technique that was used many years ago apparently is being tried again. A liquid supplement is added to the straw at the time of baling. When done properly this improves the palatability of the straw, reduces waste, provides a much greater opportunity for all animals to get their share of supplement every day, and best of all, is very economical. A properly designed supplement will provide literally all nutrients that are needed to compliment the straw, with the exception of plain salt. It's certainly a viable alternative. If you have questions about such a product or if you need help locating a supplier, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Grass seed screening pellets are another alternative to hay. They have been fed to cows quite successfully over the entire feeding period from fall through early spring. A couple of pounds/head/day of long roughage is also fed to maintain a healthy gut. If you choose this route, make certain that you check for endophytes and possibly ergot. Grass seed screening have also been fed to calves as the major portion of the wintering ration when gains of 1 /hd/day are acceptable.

Pea hay is an excellent feed when it's put up so that it isn't dirty or moldy. Some bales may have spots of mold. I've seen ash (dirt) as high as 20%; Both of these problems really hurt the value of pea hay. Pea hay from irrigated fields are normally higher in protein and energy than the hay from dryland peas.

Some other crops serve as alfalfa and grass hay alternatives when there is little available or prices are high. These include:

  • Baled corn stalks, cobs, and leaves.
  • Bean Hay
  • Canola hay (very unpalatable to cattle)
  • Vetch Hay
  • Sudan grass hay (watch nitrates)
  • Grape Pomace
  • Oat mill by-product
  • Mint Silage

Other by-products sometimes available but not substitutes for hay are: potato waste, carrots, cannery mixed vegetable waste, cookie or pie dough, onions, or corn dust. These products are grain substitutes, that may be fed with hay or straw, but shouldn't be used in place of a large amount of hay.

Get a feed test and commitment for the amount available before you consider feeding a product with which you have no experience. I talked to a gentleman recently that was going to buy a fermentation waste product that had a pretty good nutrient profile when viewed at 100 % dry basis. The cost was to be $18/ton delivered and the solids (or dry matter) was 13%. A good starting point to measure the value of something with a lot of moisture, is to calculate the cost per unit of dry matter…in this instance we would divide $18 by 0.13, which equals $138.46/ton. Bottom line: this stuff better be gold or better yet, organic gold, to justify that kind of price!

Copies of Mike Mehren's book 'Common Cents Livestock Feeding' are still available at $12.95 ea. Postpaid from Haywire Publ. Co., 32839 E Loop Rd Hermiston, OR 97838 Email: mehren@eoni.com

Michael J. Mehren Ph.D. has not found a suitable substitute for chocolate or Coors Light anywhere in the Northwestern U.S. or Canada.

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