How to Meet your Cow’s Nutrient Needs when Feeding Hay this Winter

Nov 03, 2023

By Mary Drewnoski

1.  Collect a representative sample of your hay with a probe.

Sampling is the largest source of error and doing it right is important to ensuring you get an accurate estimate of the feed value of your hay. Make sure to keep different “lots” of hay separate. Guidelines for sampling can be found here.

Don’t have a hay probe? We can help! Most of our local Nebraska Extension offices have a probe that you can borrow. Check out the list of offices with probes and their contact information here.

2.   Send in the hay for analysis.

Near infrared reflectance (NIR) spectroscopy packages are a low-cost way to get your samples analyzed. When sending a sample in to be tested using NIR, it is important to identify the type of forage being submitted so the correct feed library can be referenced. If you know the species of forage include that in the name.

 3.  Compare to nutrient needs.

When you get your results back from the lab there will usually be two columns of numbers, one that is labeled as-is basis and the other DM basis. Look at the DM basis column to determine if it will meet your cow’s needs. If you had your hay tested by NIR and have multiple estimates of TDN, use the one that says OARDC TDN as it is often a better estimate of energy content than ADF TDN.

If feeding hay free choice then compare the TDN, CP, and P to nutrient density on Table 2. If you have multiple “lots” of hay, you should evaluate which lot to feed when to best meet the needs of the cows. For spring calving cows, nutrient needs go up as the winter progresses so feeding your lower quality hay first and higher quality hay later in the winter may be useful.

4.  Contact your local Livestock Systems Educator.

We are here to help! If you have questions or just want an expert opinion, give us a call. If your hay does not meet your cow’s needs, we can help you find the right supplement to meet your needs. Also, if you want to limit feed hay or use it as a supplement to cattle out grazing, we can help determine how much is needed.

 5.  Start thinking about your plan for feeding your cows this spring.

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