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By Ryan McGeeney U of A System Division of AgricultureSept. 4, 2019
(488 words)(Download this story in MS Word format here.)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The intermittent rains that have saturated Arkansas for most
of the past year have taken their toll on forage quality, confirming the suspicions
of producers and forage quality researchers alike.
Shane Gadberry, professor of ruminant nutrition for the University of Arkansas System
Division of Agriculture, said the rains affected every aspect of raising forage, from
planting and fertilization to pest management.
“Putting up good quality hay was challenging for Arkansas ranchers in 2019,” Gadberry
said. “Rain and water-logged soils kept ranchers from getting fertilizer out, weeds
sprayed, and hay harvested in a timely manner. We’re starting to see the consequences
in the lab.”
Between May 1 and August 27, 92 cool-season grass hay samples and 368 warm-season
grass hay samples were analyzed through the Division of Agriculture’s Diagnostics
Laboratory in Fayetteville. Testing results show protein averaging 9 percent in cool-season
grasses and 9.8 percent in warm season grasses, with total digestible nutrients (commonly
referred to as TDN) averaging 51 percent in-cool season grasses and 56 percent in
“We typically see protein above 10 percent and TDN around 54 percent in fescue, our
most commonly harvested cool-season grass,” Gadberry said. “Bermudagrass is the predominate
warm-season grass harvested for hay, and historically we’ve seen the protein around
12 percent and TDN close to 58 percent.”
A drop of 2 to 4 percentage points in overall quality means cows will need more supplementation
through the winter. About 50 percent of available hay is testing too low in protein
and energy for non-lactating cows in late gestation, Gadberry said. About 80 percent
of the hay is too low in protein and energy for early-lactation cows.
“It’s uncommon to see this many hay samples not meeting the nutrient requirements
of non-lactating cows,” Gadberry said.
In the short term, the extra body fat many cows are carrying from this summer’s abundant
pasture growth will help them endure the winter. But if they lose too much body conditioning
before calving, or are in a negative energy balance during breeding, next year’s calf
crop will suffer, Gadberry said.
“The current excess supply of pasture forage is going to start dropping in quality
as we move into fall,” he said. “Ranchers should visit with their county Extension
agents about testing pasture forages for protein and TDN, like they would hay. If
pastures test below 8 percent protein, supplemental protein may help the cows better
digest those carryover grasses.”
Supplemental feed costs are likely going to be higher this winter, Gadberry said.
“The best approach to choosing the right type and amount of supplement is testing
on-farm hay stocks,” he said. “Hay quality is too variable, from farm to farm and
cutting to cutting, to make assumptions about supplemental feeding. A routine hay
analysis will cost $18 a sample.”
To learn about forage quality testing, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service
agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow the Cooperative Extension Service on Twitter at @uaex_edu.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex,
gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital
or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and
is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
# # #
Media Contact: Ryan McGeeneyCommunication ServicesU of A System Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) firstname.lastname@example.org