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Best Type of Winter Stored Forages

December 9, 2019

Best Type of Winter Stored Forages for Successful Gains

By Will Winter, DVM

Obviously, the goal here is to come as close as possible to fresh, living grass. There are two main ways to “lock in” the nutrition, one is to dry the moisture out of the grass and to do so as quickly as possible. The plant is still respirating even after it is cut, causing a certain percentage of nutrition to be lost until it eventually dies. When cut hay is rained on, or if it is a humid cloudy day, the nutritional value of the hay can be cut in half or worse. The other method of preservation of nutrients involves fermentation, a process in which the sugar is metabolized by certain bacteria that convert it into their waste products which are primarily volatile fatty acids (VFA) such as acetic, propionic, and lactic acids. Additionally, as fermentation continues alcohols are manufactured. Every single one of these fermentation products are valuable as energy sources, in fact, some are even more powerful than the original sugars.

Hay Varieties:

Timothy makes excellent hay, with adequate protein (not much protein is needed for the fattening stage), moderate calcium and lots of calories. Unfortunately, it’s a sensitive grass meaning the sugar begins dropping rapidly right after it blooms, so if it’s cut later, don’t expect much energy.

This is a good grass for hay and can equal Timothy in protein, calcium and sugar. Ideally, it should be grown with legumes to raise the quality.

This legume is loaded with protein, so it makes better hay for animals that are still growing their frame. However, if you can get it, this is a plant that is filled with energy.

This is another legume that is typically grown in conjunction with various grasses making it a true winner for high quality hay.

There is a wide range of times to cut oats, but no matter when you do, there is a lot of everything, particularly the delicious and highly digestible fiber. It is high in protein. It is much more palatable if cut before the dough stage, which is also when there is the most energy. Even better, cut oats in the boot stage for the highest protein and palatability. Late cut oats with full seed heads is nutritious but not allowed in a 100% grassfed program.

Brome is a very popular hay and it’s a lot easier to put up in that these plants have a high nutritional plane over much of the growing season. The hay, like most, should smell sweet and grassy, not sour or moldy. Watch for discoloration which could indicate that the grass was too wet and molded.

This highly recommended plan means that bales are popped open and the livestock eat it in-situ. This is particularly desirable in cold, snowy areas of the country. The residue left from grazing is not really wasted, as it serves, along with manure and urine, as “fertilizer” for the year to come. Typically, the bales are set out in a pattern that allows the rancher to determine when to open up more bales as they are consumed but protect the extra bales from the livestock until it’s time to utilize them. Typically, it’s easy to spot the portions of the pastures that were previously bale grazed, it’s green and thick with grass. If possible, bale graze the poorest areas of the pasture.


Just like with corn silage, the plants are cut green and via a round baler placed in an air-tight plastic bag at 45-65% moisture. The advantages include the fact that it’s easier to digest, saves more nutrients, tastes good, unlikely to cause bloat, and there is only about a 10% loss with fermented storage whereas dry hay can lose 25% or more. Of course, it costs more to bag hay, and there is the environmental cost of more plastic usage. It’s still a great option though, especially since the areas suffering from increased rainfall have a difficult time drying hay down enough to prevent heating up and mold formation.

Maci Maier

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