Many parts of the country experienced an abnormally wet summer this year. While this might have been a welcome change from the drought of 2012, an overabundance of moisture can cause myriad problems and complications for our row-crop farmers, as well as completely halt hay production.
While farmers and ranchers wait for a break in the rain, hay fields continue to grow. As grass becomes more mature, its digestibility decreases and the nutrient content is affected, according to Mark Mauldin, agriculture and natural resources expert at the University of Florida IFAS Extension. This occurs for two main reasons. First, any fertilizers applied to hay fields in spring or early summer are likely leached away by excessive rains before the grass is able to utilize it. When nitrogen escapes the grass, less protein becomes available for livestock to utilize.
The second factor affecting grass nutrient content is the amount of water present in the grass, Mauldin says. When grasses grow in higher-than-normal moisture environments, they tend to absorb more water. This excess water dilutes the plant’s nutrients, decreasing the amount of nutrients available to livestock in a given volume of forage. This situation is compounded through the hay-making process, as nutrients are often lost with water while the hay cures in the field.
As autumn approaches, weather patterns are shifting and drier days are near. Hay production is in full swing throughout many parts of the country, and due to excess rain experienced throughout the summer, the quality of hay being produced is likely lower than normal. For this reason, Mauldin recommends performing a nutrient analysis on this year’s hay. If the feed value of the hay is less than that of years past, provide a nutritional supplement to your livestock. Now is the time to start considering future livestock nutritional needs, while the grass is still growing and supplementation plans can be made. In the winter, when cattle condition is declining and performance is suffering, is not the time to start considering what additional nutritional supplementation is needed.
Forage samplers and information on where to send hay for analysis are available through your county extension office. A standard forage analysis costs $15. Additional information regarding forage quality and testing is available from the University of Florida’s factsheets: Forage Testing and Defining Forage Quality.