What Is The Best Type Of Hay To Feed Cattle?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

During the cold winter months when foraging is limited, most cattle, sheep, goats, and horses subsist on hay. While pasture is the ideal feed for cattle, hay is the next best food source. As this product can vary significantly in variety, quality, and availability, it’s critical to research your options. With proper planning, feeding your cattle hay during the winter is a straightforward, affordable source of food. While there are many different types to choose from, you should always select the best type for your cattle.

Different types of hay

There are several categories of hay including legume, grass, mixed (legume and grass), and cereal grain straw (i.e. oat hay). The more common varieties of grass hay include brome, timothy, bluegrass, and orchardgrass. In some regions of the country, reed canary grass, fescue, Sudangrass, and ryegrass are also common. Timothy does best in the northern areas of the country while coastal Bermuda, orchardgrass, and brome thrive in the southern and central areas of the country.

Legumes used for hay include lespedeza, vetch, birdsfoot trefoil, cowpeas, soybean, alfalfa, and varying kinds of clover (i.e. ladina, red, alsike, crimson). Typically, good legume hay has slightly higher levels of vitamin A, calcium, and digestible energy than grass types. Certain strands of alfalfa have two times the protein and three times the calcium of grass hay. This extra nutrition makes alfalfa a good choice for cattle in need of high levels of minerals and protein.

Choosing the best type of hay for your cattle

Typically, cattle tolerate hay that is dustier than what horses can handle. This livestock is even able to eat slightly moldy hay without any problems. If you are feeding pregnant cows, pay attention to mold that does develop, as some varieties cause abortion. Young calves, dairy cows, and mature beef cattle require different qualities of hay. Mature beef cattle are fine with plain types, while lactating cows need a higher level of protein. Good palatable grass hay that is cut while it’s still green and growing is a solid option for lactating cows. If you are feeding the lactating cows dry, coarse product, add some legume hay to their diet.

Dairy cows produce more milk than beef cows, which means that they need a superior variety with ample nutrients. Dairy cows also need to eat as much as possible to produce adequate quantities of milk. Fine, palatable alfalfa hay is a superior choice over coarse or grassy types.

When you are facing high costs, consider feeding your beef cattle a mixture of straw and some variety of protein. Straw provides energy while a small quantity of alfalfa or a commercial supplement offers the required vitamins, minerals, and protein. When you are buying straw for feed, look for high quality, clean varieties. Many cattle prefer oat straw over barley straw and wheat straw. If you want to feed your cattle cereal grain hay, cut it while it’s still green and growing, just as you would with grass types. You should also have this choice assessed for nitrate levels to steer clear of nitrate poisoning.

During the winter months, cattle thrive better when fed extra straw or grass hay as opposed to legume types. This accommodates for their larger rumen or fermentation vat.

SB Hay & Feed is the place to go for all types of hay. Check out our website to see the types we have available to buy or sell your own bales. If you have any questions or need more information, give us a call at 800-652-3036 or Contact Us via email. We will be happy to answer your questions and help you select the proper type for your livestock.