National hay shortage affecting local farmers

Officials offer useful tips to help

TAYLOR COUNTY—Farmers throughout United States are dealing with a hay shortage unlike the country has seen in years.

Due to the recent hay shortage in West Virginia, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) has issued a list of helpful tips to help cattle farmers to maintain a healthy herd. 

“Odds are we still have six weeks left of winter, if not more. With being halfway through the winter feed season, farmers must take stock if they have enough hay to keep a well-fed and healthy herd,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt. “If hay is in short supply, farmers will want to avoid turning cattle out too early as it could have effects on pasture feeding for next summer.”

The hay shortage is most likely due to an unusually wet 2018.  The rainfall led to reduced and ruined hay crops. 

The WVDA reports that they are working with FSA offices county offices and WVU County Extension agents to help farmers locate hay or alternative deeding methods. 

“Testing hay for nutritional content will allow producers to match up the hay supply that they have to meet their animals needs and assist with determining what supplements may be utilized to stretch their hay supply,” offered WVU Extension Agent, John Murray. “The WVU Extension Service Taylor County Office can assist producers with testing hay to determine the nutritional quality.”

He revealed that the office has a hay sampling probe to take proper samples, however the producer is still responsible for the lab and shipping fees.

“For those farms that are cooperators with the Tygart Valley Conservation District, they have a program that will assist with the cost of submitting samples to the lab,” he noted.

The WVDA, FSA and WVU Extension Services offer farmers the following tips:

Inventory the hay supply on hand and compare it to feed demand. Cattle prefer to eat about 2.5% of their body weight in hay dry matter. That is about 28 lbs. of air-dry hay per 1000 lbs. body weight.

Locate available hay, straw or corn fodder for purchase. This could mean trucking in feed from other states. Hay is generally the least costly feed for beef cattle.

Consider limiting the hay to the animal’s nutritional requirement. But be careful in doing so as cows need to be in a body condition score of 5 or 6 at calving if they are to conceive the next calf on time.

Keeping the body condition up on cows in cold weather helps reduce feed demand for maintaining body heat. Fat provides insulation from the cold and helps reduce shivering.

Alternative sources of feed are soybean hull pellets, wheat midds, whole cotton seed or cotton seed hulls. These fibers are high in protein and should be available in West Virginia depending on your location in the state.

Other good sources of protein include dry distiller’s grain, corn gluten feed or soybean. These feeds provide good energy without any starch that would limit the digestibility of hay.

Corn is often the go-to feed when hay supply is limited. However, corn is high in starch. If adequate protein is not mixed with the corn, this ends up reducing the digestibility of fiber in hay. A 14 percent crude protein feed made from commodity by-products without any corn (limiting the starch) is another good option.

If producers have hay they would like to sell or are in need of hay, please contact the WVU Taylor County Extension Office. The office will be keeping a list to try to help producers find the hay that they need.

“Unfortunately, in shortages like this we cannot always meet the needs locally. If there is a large enough need locally, we may be able to assist producers with finding sources from outside of the area that they can go together to reduce trucking costs by purchasing larger volumes than a single farm would need,” said Murray.

Famers can contact WVU Extension Service Taylor County Office by calling them at 304-265-3303.

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