When is it Ok to Use Moldy Hay as Livestock Feed?

It would be wonderful if all you ever fed your livestock was top quality hay chock full of nutrients. However, the reality is that in some situations that is simply not possible.

A particularly wet haying season can leave producers with low-quality, moldy hay. While there are some instances when the risks of feeding animals low-quality hay outweighs all benefits (when feeding pregnant or lactating cows, for example), many times low-quality hay can be salvaged for feed.

The first thing you need to do when considering what your options are in regard to wet hay is to get a handle on exactly what you are dealing with. Are the stems large and thick? Do you see a lot of weeds? If you are dealing with these problems, you must understand that intake and nutritional levels will be considerably lower than would be the case with high-quality hay. You also must make some tough decisions.

If the hay contains a significant amount of mold, it simply isn’t worth the risk of feeding it to livestock. While no one wants to waste hay, in some cases it simply cannot be avoided.

Ergot is another problem. Ergot can be identified by black seed heads. While you can consider adding other feedstuffs to ergot-infested hay, in many cases it also is simply not worth trying to use as livestock feed.

If you plan to feed subpar hay, you should be sure to offer plenty of other options to livestock. These options can include things like cornstalks, corn silage and grains. The key would be to formulate a ration with three or four other ingredients.

While grinding poor quality hay forages can increase intake, it also can be expensive, running approximately $10 per bale. Grinding hay also will make it more difficult for livestock to avoid the undesirable parts of the hay.

When it comes down to feeding livestock moldy hay, it is important to remember that when it doubt, do not use do it. Horses and pregnant or lactating animals are especially sensitive to moldy hay which may lead to digestive and respiratory problems. While cattle are not as sensitive, certain molds can cause fungal infections in these animals, as well. Finally, moldy hay can put producers at risk since it has been linked to farmer’s lung.

While balers with pre-cutting systems can cost about $10,000 more than traditional balers, it is easy to see how this money is well spent through a reduction in winter forage costs as well as a drop in supplemental feeding bills.