beef cows

Three Things to Consider Before Beginning to Feed Hay to Beef Cows

Knowing when to start feeding hay to beef cows may seem like a no-brainer, but it is a bit more complicated than many expect.

The simplest answer is that you should offer hay when there isn’t sufficient pasture forage to meet the needs of the herd. However, it also is important to take into consideration the nutritional quality of that pasture, as well. In other words, feeding your beef cows pasture forage only makes sense if their nutritional needs are being met.

When it comes to making this important decision, here are some factors to consider: 

  1. Location. The part of the country in which you lives impacts growing season and forage species. Frost and the cessation of forage growth must be considered. Further, flooded pastures in coastal regions lowers access to forage submerged by water. Extreme cold or snow that covers the ground also makes putting out hay a good idea.
  2. Availability of forage. Drought, flooding, deep snow or ice, timing of planting, soil fertility and stocking density can all impact the availability of forage. This is important since forage availability has a direct impact on the intake levels.
  3. Impact on forage growth the following spring. Research has shown that grazing stockpiled tall fescue can lead to a decrease in forage production the following spring. While this can be seen as a negative, it also can be incorporated into an overall forage management strategy. Setting aside separate pastures or paddocks for stockpiling and grazing allows you to plan spring grazing movements of livestock. Areas not grazed in the fall would be likely to experience faster spring forage accumulation, leading to earlier spring grazing on these pastures while allowing fall stockpiled grazed areas to recover. Further, grazing stockpiled fescue fields short promotes increased seed‐to‐soil contact when frost‐seeding legumes, enhancing establishment while reducing fescue competition in the spring. 

It most cases, feeding hay to beef cattle should begin sooner rather than later. A good starting point is when forage reaches about 4 inches for tall fescue‐based pastures. As forage availability declines hay intake will increase and access to hay will allow livestock to achieve maximum intakes and, ultimately, performance. In the end, the answer to when to start cows on hay will depend a good deal on your management objectives.

If you would like your local farm supply to carry Hay Manager Products let us know.