Area Livestock Specialist, Earl Ward Provides Guidance on Efficiently Feeding Through the Winter

Listen to Reagan Calk’s conversation with Earl Ward about feeding through the winter.

Associate Farm Editor, Reagan Calk, got the chance to visit with the OSU Extension Northeast Area Livestock Specialist, Earl Ward, about efficiently feeding livestock through the winter.

Ward said it is important for producers to identify which supplement works best for the hay or standing forage available to them. Choosing the wrong supplement will only cost producers extra money, he added, to completing a thorough forage analysis by allowing experts to evaluate that supplement cost and poundage of supplement.

Because of limited rainfall this year, Ward said many producers cannot go off of numbers they have used in the past. Ward recommends beginning to look at options such as restricting hay consumption and utilizing a supplement if cost allows.

A typical cow will eat about 30 pounds of dry matter per day, Ward said, so if a cow is restricted to around 15 pounds of dry matter per day while adding the rest back with concentrates, the cow’s visceral organs will shrink.

“Her liver is also going to shrink, which is a big expenditure for our energy, so if we can reduce the amount of energy the liver uses, then we are reducing the cow’s nutrient requirements,” Ward said. “We are giving her the same amount of nutrients, but now her nutrient requirement is lower, so we might be able to capitalize on that and get a little bit better gains with the same amount of feed.”

The way that a producer feeds their hay is also important, Ward said, because it can make a difference in maximizing the value of each bale by decreasing waste.

Logan County livestock producer Marka Acton braves the elements to ensure her cattle have access to quality hay in a bale feeder. (Photo by Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services)

“The research study from OSU back in 2011 is looking at different styles of bale feeders and how much waste comes from that,” Ward said. “What we have seen is, if we see a modified cone style or something that is definitely sheeted around the bottom, we really reduce that amount of waste that the cows waste per bale.”

An open-bottom hay feeder, Ward said, will lose about 20 percent of a bale. In years like this, he added, that is money down the drain.

Limiting the amount of time cows have access to round bales open in the pasture, Ward said, is another way to get the most out of each bale.

“What we have seen is in about a two-hour period, if every cow had access to round bales, that we could restrict them to about those 15 pounds of dry matter per head, per day,” Ward said. “It is probably going to take more management, but that management is what is going to save you money by the time we get to the end of winter.”

Without testing forage quality, it can be easy to overfeed or underfeed cattle. Hence, OSU Extension provides free consultation to aid producers in making management decisions with the help of research.

“We have a county office in every county in the state,” Ward said. “So whatever county you live in, look up OSU Extension in that county, and you can go there, and there should be an ag educator that is in that county.”

OSU Extension also has area specialists in livestock, agronomy, and more to help producers access resources to aid them in their operations through research-based information.

“OSU Extension is free to everybody, so bring your stuff in, and we can help give you advice and try to help save pennies per head per day which is going to help save you maybe a couple thousand by the time we get to the end of winter,” Ward said.

To read more about taking steps to maximize available hay in cattle operations from OSU, click here.

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