"We have pretty good forage quantity, but what is going to hurt us is the quality," says Rory Lewandowski, an educator with the Ohio state University Extension Beef Team. "Most of southeastern Ohio is going to be in that situation, because we had decent amounts of hay in terms of tonnage, but the quality, especially of that first cutting, is going to present a problem."
Some producers reported making more hay in terms of overall tonnage than in recent memory, but that most were uniformly late getting into fields because of the overly wet spring across most of Ohio, according to Lewandoski.
He says members of the Beef Team across the state reported similar findings, and that in many cases producers were stuck putting off cutting hay because they were still planting corn and soybeans during the optimum window for first cutting.
"Sometimes we had a trade-off getting crops in versus getting hay made," Lewandowski says. "Quality reflects that lateness of making the hay."
For producers concerned their first cutting isn't of as high a quality as normal or necessary, the Beef Team offers several important recommendations.
First, know exactly what you're dealing with in terms of the nutritive value of the hay in the first place. Taking forage samples and sending them off to a reputable testing lab is a must.
"You really need to have an idea of what that quality is to make determinations about when to use it, and what type of supplementation, if any, is necessary," Lewandowski explains. "You can't do that simply by guessing."
Next, he recommends feeding the poorest quality hay first, and saving higher-quality, second- and third-cutting hay for later in the season, particularly when animals are in the last third of the gestation cycle.
"Feed that poorer-quality hay now and through the early- to mid-gestation phase in cattle," he says. "That early hay will not be adequate nutrition for late-gestation needs of the cow. You don't want to depend on that hay in the late winter and early next spring."
Finally, Lewandowski says pasture management is still critically important heading into mid- to late November.
"We're still probably not at that point where grass growth has really quit yet, so we caution producers not to overgraze at this point in the year," he says. "Once we get a few hard frosts, then we can start grazing a little more heavily over the winter and not be concerned with leaf residual area."
For those using stockpiled forages, or farmers who planted winter wheat or oats for grazing, he also suggested strip grazing to get better utilization, and to consider more intensive rotations to limit animals' potential for overgrazing.
If producers have questions about Extension recommendations for maximizing livestock performance in the face of poor-quality forage this winter, contact a member of the OSU Extension Beef Team.