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Bargain Hay is No Bargain if it is Poor Quality

Bargain, poor quality hay may actually be more expensive when you factor in waste, lower intake, and nutrient deficiencies that require higher supplementation.

Everyone likes a good bargain, but when it comes to hay, low price often equates to poorer quality. Because hay is often sold by the bale, the amount of savings from the “good bargain” can be reduced substantially if there is a negative impact on herd nutrition. So what constitutes “poor quality hay?”  It is hay that limits how much a cow will eat, has a low energy value, low protein content, and as a result requires a large amount of supplemental feed to support cow performance. Poor quality hay generally results from inadequately fertilized fields and/or harvesting more mature plants to increase yield per acre. This combination of sub-optimal forage management leads to increased plant fiber content, lower digestibility and ultimately lower nutritional value.

How increased fiber impacts hay quality:

Intake is reduced as fiber content increases. Mature or “rank” hay reduces the total amount cows willingly consume each day.   It hurts both their appetite and the amount their rumen can physically hold.  Likewise, the increased fiber content decreases the digestibility of the hay, which also contributes to the gut fill limitation imposed by poor quality hay. Cow intake requirements change throughout the production cycle, but increased intake requirements do not equate to greater intake when the quality is poor.  Just because she needs more nutrients does not mean she will eat more.

Energy limitations result from increased fiber content which decreases the digestibility of the hay. The more mature the hay the less energy that is available from each mouthful. Coupling limited energy availability and reduced intake negatively impacts cow performance. Compounding the nutritional issue is that prior to calving and during lactation cow energy requirements increase and reach their peak. Therefore, poor quality hay reduces cow performance expressed as milk production and reproduction.

Higher fiber content also limits the digestibility and availability of the protein in the hay. Hay quality compromised by low fertility, causes protein content of the forage to be reduced.  Low protein diets from poor quality hay also limits intake of forage because of the deficient nitrogen and protein supply for the rumen microbes, which are actually digesting the forage. Limitations on the protein concentration ultimately limits cow productivity.

Impacts of Poor Quality Hay on Body Condition:

So let’s consider all the characteristics that are limiting in poor quality hay. The hay that limits cow hay intake and nutrient intake lead to the cow mobilizing body tissue to meet nutrient deficiencies.  There is a limited amount of body fat and muscle that a cow can mobilize to support her production.  Mobilization of body fat and muscle over time leads to decreased cow body condition score (BCS). Decreased cow body condition score below the pivotal BCS of 5 leads to decreased cow productivity and decreased cow reproductive performance.

The figures below demonstrate the effect of different hay qualities on estimated cow dry matter intake potential, TDN/energy intake, and crude protein intake relative to what a 1200 lb, average milk potential cow requires during the critical months leading up to calving and after calving. As you can see, hays frequently produced and purchased in the Southeast are quite limiting for cow intake, energy supply, and protein supply.

Bale 1 does an adequate job of maintaining a cow, bale 2 a fair job, but bale 3 and 4 leave much to be desired. The limited intake and energy supply in the hays result in body condition score loss from 5 to 4 by the cows in as few as 25 days for Bale 4 one month before calving, to as long as 217 days after calving for Bale 1 . The conclusion here is that bad hay results in rapid cow body condition score loss at critical times in the production cycle.


The direct cost of bargain hay is only known if you have results of a forage test, know the true quality of the hay is, and decide to fix the problem by purchasing supplements to fill the nutrient deficiencies. Supplemental feeds can improve intake limitations and fill any energy and protein deficiencies. The cost to fix the hay is determined by how large the intake, energy, and protein deficiencies are that need to be fixed, and the cost of the supplements considered. The indirect cost of bargain hay results in decreased cow performance that is manifest as decreased pregnancy rate and weaning weights of calves.

Limitations on hay intake and the deficiencies in energy and protein from the hay lead to increased costs associated with hay feeding. Coupling the cost of the hay, hay waste as result of poor quality hay, and additional supplementation cost all adds up, and eat into enterprise profitability. Bargain hay ultimately costs you twice, first when you purchase the hay and next when you feed it.

To have your hay tested for quality, contact your local Extension agent.  For more information related to this subject, use the following links:

Acute Bloat Syndrome Dairy Calves

Bloat is a common disorder seen in ruminants, such as cattle. However, bloat observed in young calves is very different from bloat seen in cows. According to Smith (2010), bloat in cows is a result of free gas building up in the rumen (the first component of the bovine’s stomach) and causes distention, or enlargement, of the rumen. This distention of the rumen can impair breathing and result in suffocation of the animal. In contrast, bloat in young calves results from gas build-up in the abomasum, the last of the four compartments of the bovine’s stomach (Smith, 2010). The abomasal bloat observed in young dairy calves is often referred to as Acute Bloat Syndrome (ABS). In a survey conducted by Shoemaker et al. (2007), 276 veterinarians across the country reported ABS to occur on a median of four farms per practitioner. ABS is becoming a widely occurring syndrome, and it is important that dairy farmers are aware of this disorder and remain updated on current research. In order to better understand ABS, it is necessary to know which cattle can be affected, the symptoms associated with the syndrome, the potential causes, the treatments, and the preventative measures for ABS.

Acute bloat syndrome occurs in calves. In most cases, calves are usually 4 to 21 days of age (Shoemaker et al., 2007). According to Marshall (2009), ABS occurs sporadically in dairy calves. Some farms will have multiple cases of ABS at one time. Not only is it a good idea to know when calves are susceptible to ABS, but it is also important to recognize the symptoms.

Understanding the symptoms of ABS is critical because calves that develop the syndrome often die within 6 to 48 hours. According to Van Metre and Callan (2006), the case fatality rate is a very steep 75 to 100%. Although the likelihood of saving the calf is low, it is only possible if symptoms are recognized early. Symptoms of ABS include abdominal distension, depression, colic signs, grinding of teeth and salivation, anorexia, fluid slosh in the abdomen, and dehydration. Less common symptoms include diarrhea and high temperature (Shoemaker et al., 2007). According to Panciera et al. (2007), after experimental induction of ABS in calves, the necropsy showed distention, hemorrhage (internal bleeding), inflammation, mucosal necrosis, and mural emphysema (air build-up in the wall of the stomach). The symptoms of ABS usually include a rapid onset and sometimes are not even observed before death occurs. Calves will eventually die from shock or compromised respiration due to the enlarged stomach, according to Van Metre (2017).

The causes of ABS are not well understood; however, experimental induction of ABS in calves led researchers to believe that the cause of ABS is large quantities of highly fermentable carbohydrates and high concentrations of bacteria containing enzymes capable of fermenting the substrate (Panciera et al., 2007). As a result of these two factors, high levels of gases are produced in the abomasum, causing distention. Although researchers are not certain which exact species of bacteria cause ABS, Clostridium perfringens, Sarcina spp, Streptococcal spp, Escherichia. coli, and Salmonella typhimurium have been identified in the abomasum of affected calves. Further research must be done in order to determine the specific role these bacteria play in ABS. Other factors that can contribute to ABS are related to nutrition and include high volumes of milk replacer, cold milk, high osmolality of milk, high protein  and fat contents in milk, high-energy oral electrolyte solutions, and inconsistent feedings. All of these can cause a slower emptying rate of the abomasum. According to Burgstaller et al. (2017), feeding practices that significantly prolong abomasal emptying can increase rates of gastrointestinal diseases in calves.  This is because the bacteria have more time to ferment the feedstuff, thus producing more gas in the abdomen. Familiarity with these causes of ABS will aid in proper decision-making regarding treatment and prevention of the disorder.

Measures for controlling ABS mainly involve dietary management in lieu of medications or procedures (Marshall, 2009). There are no reliable data on whether or not conventional vaccines are helpful. It is thought that vaccines containing inactivated toxins given to pregnant cows will produce antibodies in the colostrum and help protect the calf (Van Metre, 2017). Antibiotics, such as penicillin or oral Beta-lactam which would target Clostridium spp, can be used, but these are not the best treatment option because the species of the ABS-causing bacteria may be different. Other medications that can be given include rumen tonics and anti-inflammatories (Shoemaker et al., 2007). Bloat-relieving procedures, such as placing a stomach tube or puncturing the abomasum to release air, are not necessarily effective treatment options. Since a stomach tube cannot reach the abomasum, the calf’s front end must be elevated in order to allow the gas to pass to the rumen and out the tube (Van Metre, 2017). Puncturing the abomasum must be done while the calf is dorsally recumbent (lying on its back) because there is a high risk of leakage of abomasal contents into the abdomen (Marshall, 2009). For these reasons, procedures and medications are usually not the best treatment options. Dietary management strategies are the preferred ways to prevent ABS. These include feeding the calves multiple, small meals on a consistent basis, mixing the milk replacer correctly according to manufacturer’s instructions in order to lower osmolality, feeding warm milk, and providing adequate amounts of water (Smith, 2010). These dietary management strategies are easy to apply and will increase the passage of feed through the abomasum to the small intestine. Although these are good treatment options and preventative strategies, farms that were rated good to excellent, based on their management practices, still struggled with ABS.

ABS is a spontaneous and puzzling disease that affects many dairy farms. The calves at risk for ABS, associated symptoms of ABS, the potential causes of ABS, and the treatment and prevention of ABS are important factors that must be studied and understood. Unfortunately, there are still many uncertainties and unknowns about this disorder, and further research is needed in order to learn more about the syndrome and the specific species of bacteria that cause it.

Works Cited

Workshop on WFRP slated for Tuesday

GEORGETOWN, Del. — Whole Farm Revenue Protection is now available in Delaware and nationwide. Some Delaware producers are already taking advantage of this emerging income insurance product to ensure operational cash flow. University of Delaware Cooperative Extension and the USDA Risk Management Agency are now offering a chance for Delaware producers to get a better understanding of this beneficial program

On Aug. 22, there will be an informational meeting at the Carvel Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown, Delaware 19947 starting at 8:30 a.m. Speakers will include:

  • DDA Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse
  • DDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kenny Bounds
  • Ben Thiel (Risk Management Agency, Spokane, WA)
  • Dr. Jarrod Miller (University of Maryland, Extension Ag Educator)
  • Don Clifton (Farmers First Services, Inc.)

WFRP topics will be covered during the workshop, including eligibility, basic coverage criteria, how commodities are counted, allowable revenue/expenses, and loss/claim information. After attending this workshop producers should be able to contact their crop insurance agents already knowing some of the basics of WFRP.

Whole-Farm Revenue Protection provides a risk management safety net for all commodities on the farm under one insurance policy. This insurance plan is tailored for any farm with up to $8.5 million in insured revenue, including farms with specialty or organic commodities (both crops and livestock), or those marketing to local, regional, farm-identity preserved, specialty or direct markets.

WFRP may be described as an umbrella policy covering a wide array of farm production, both insurable commodities and those for which insurance is not currently available. Many crops which are non-insurable individually are high revenue, high input ventures, involving relatively higher risk. Such crops can often represent a higher percentage of farm revenue than proportionate acreage.

Although WFRP is especially effective coverage for diversified operations with multiple crops and/or livestock, attractive coverage may be available for qualifying operations producing a single commodity.

WFRP protects your farm against the loss of farm revenue that you earn or expect to earn from:

  • Commodities you produce during the insurance period, whether they are sold or not;
  • Commodities you buy for resale during the insurance period; and
  • All commodities on the farm except timber, forest, forest products, and animals for sport, show or pets.

WFRP provides farm growth provisions. Operations that have been expanding over time may be allowed to increase their approved revenue amount based on an indexing procedure or, if you can show that your operation has physically expanded (land, animals, facilities, or production capacity) so it has the potential to produce up to 35 percent more revenue than the historic average, your insurance company may approve your operation as an expanding operation to reflect that growth in the insurance guarantee.

Nutrient manangement credits will be available to attendees. Register at, 302-831-2538 or 302-242-8806.

University of Delaware

Dairy MPP Sign-up Delayed

Dairy MPP Sign-up Delayed

USDA has delayed sign-up for the 2018 Dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP) until Sept. 1.

“Delaying signup until Sept. 1, 2017, will allow County Offices to concentrate on national acreage reporting, emergency grazing requests and LFP applications,” notes Kathy Sayers, acting administrator of Farm Programs.

In the past, the enrollment officially ended Sept. 30. But the deadline has typically been extended into December to encourage more sign-up. No word in the current announcement when enrollment for 2018 will close.

The notice has a dateline of July 3, 2017, but it was buried at the bottom of the Dairy MPP web page.

‘Soy Milk’ or ‘Bean Slurry?’

|  By: Jim Dickrell

The Good Foods Institute (GFI) submitted a letter to the Food and Drug Administration today, arguing soy-based beverages should be allowed to be labeled as milk. The reasoning: Consumers know and refer to it as milk.

“Consumers refer to soy milk as soy milk. The term clearly communicates that soy milk is a form of milk that is made of soy. Likewise, rice noodles are noodles made of rice, and gluten-free bread is a form of bread that does not contain gluten. FDA should provide clarity that such straightforward terms are acceptable,” argues Jessica Almy, GFI Policy Director.

The circular logic grew immediate response from Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation: “Ironically, in GFI’s first request to FDA in March, the organization admitted that in China – supposedly the original source of ‘soy milk’ – the more common term used in Mandarin for soy beverages is ‘dòu jiāng,’ which translates to bean slurry. At least that is a more accurate and legally compliant product description.”

Mulhern adds: “The efforts of GFI and other groups to alter food standards that have been in place for decades – allowing manufacturers of imitation dairy foods to append a plant name like almond, soy, hemp or quinoa in front of legally defined dairy terms such as milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream – falsely suggests that the products are nutritionally equivalent. They are not. This is a transparent attempt to profit from milk’s good name by emulating the wording, but not the superior nutrition, of our products. It is misleading and deceptive to allow these nutritionally inferior imitators to use our hard-won reputation to their advantage.”