Damaged hay may short your herd

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

The weather challenges from 2015 continue to present themselves. As I write this, available forage is on the wane due to dry conditions. For many producers, it’s time to feed hay. And much of that hay might be of low quality because, in the early summer monsoons, it was rained on before it got baled.

There are no robust guidelines that can accurately estimate the amount of damage or the actual feeding value. The factors influencing rain damage are just too variable. They include the amount of rain that fell on the hay and how long it rained. How dry the hay was before the rain has an effect, as does the drying conditions after the rain. How the hay got raked between the rain and baling, moisture of hay when baled and quality of hay when cut are also factors. Mold is common in rained-on hay. Often the hay was baled too wet, either to avoid further rain damage or to remove it from the field to reduce its impact on regrowth. But even when the bales are ready and waiting, feeding moldy hay to livestock is a tough decision.

All hay contains some mold, but when mold becomes easily noticeable, feeding management becomes more important.

Usually, mold makes hay less palatable, which can result in lower intake or even in animals refusing to eat the hay. Other problems from mold can occur due to mycotoxins produced by certain mold fungi. This also is part of the decision process, since not all molds produce mycotoxins. When they do produce mycotoxins, it’s hard to predict how much they will produce. The good news is, mycotoxins rarely are present in hay unless it has mature seeds.

Laboratory analyses for molds and mycotoxins are available, but are relatively expensive. Often, each mycotoxin must be measured individually. That increases the cost, and if you aren’t testing for the right mycotoxin, can give you an incomplete picture. Moreover, the test is based on the sample hay sample you send in, which may or may not be representative of the larger hay supply. Mycotoxin concentration usually is highly variable.

Direct negative effects of moldy hay are difficult to document. Horses may be the most sensitive to mold among common livestock. For example, mold spores often contribute to respiratory and digestive problems like colic or heaves in horses.

The best course of action is to minimize feeding moldy hay to more sensitive animals, like horses or pregnant cows. This may require a keen eye or sensitive nose when selecting hay to feed each day.

Mixing moldy hay with other feedstuffs can dilute mold problems, but be careful that you don’t make your animals sick by tricking them into eating bad hay that they normally would refuse.

Hay baled too wet is susceptible to heat damage, also called enzymatic browning. It is caused by heat produced by microorganisms in the hay as they use plant sugars and oxygen. If enough heat is produced to raise hay temperature above 125 degrees, chemical reactions occur that combine amino acids from protein with sugar to produce compounds similar to lignin.

These heat-damaged protein compounds are poorly digested but often smell sweet like caramel. You may see hay turn a tobacco-brown color. This damage sometimes produces flavors that cattle find exceptionally palatable.

Although livestock may favorably consume heat-damaged hay, the protein value they get from it can be unexpectedly low. Standard forage tests can predict energy available from heat-damaged hay, but the standard crude protein test cannot distinguish between usable crude protein and heat-damaged protein. Thus, standard tests may significantly overestimate the usable protein in the forage.

The lab test used to measure heat-damaged protein, which can then be adjusted to account for the digestibility/availability of the feed protein, is the acid detergent insoluble nitrogen (ADIN) test. It is also known as acid detergent fiber crude protein (ADF-CP) or insoluble crude protein (ICP). When heat damage is suspected, ask your lab to conduct this test and adjust crude protein accordingly.

Rain damages hay in several ways. It leaches soluble carbohydrates, proteins and minerals out of the hay. Leaves are lost. Extended drying time reduces carbohydrates due to plant respiration and microbial activity.

Three primary factors are involved in dry matter losses—leaching, respiration and leaf loss. Leaching is the movement of cell solubles out of the plant. Components of the plant that are very water soluble are leached out of the forage and lost when rained on. Basically, if a nutrient is highly digestible, it is also prone to leaching losses. About half of the dry matter leached by rain is soluble carbohydrates.

Most often, fiber concentration increases and crude protein concentration remains about the same after hay has been rained on. Digestibility and energy usually decline. The increase in fiber concentration is due to soluble carbohydrates and other components leaching from the hay—fiber isn’t actually increasing.

The digestibility of rain-damaged hay will be reduced. Many factors contribute to this: leaf loss, soluble carbohydrate leaching, the increased levels of fiber and ash by concentration. Forage digestibility may be reduced by just a little or up to a third.

The amount of change in nutrient concentration is highly unpredictable. If you are counting on hay that has been rained on or put up wet, a laboratory analysis for nutrient content will help you adjust the supplements you need to keep your livestock in condition


Timing is everything

Written by Dr. Jason Weirich on .

I think we can all agree that the 2015 growing season was one for the record books. In the past few years, parts of the MFA trade territory have had abnormal weather conditions, but this year it was widespread. Many of you didn’t get to plant all of your acres, and much of what did get planted was damaged. But Mother Nature doesn’t stop to account for our complaints, so it is time to think about next year.

This past spring I had several calls on how to burndown fields that were infested with a wide variety weeds.

A common theme on these calls was that the field didn’t have a fall-applied chemical program. As a result, the callers wanted to know how to kill 2- to 3-foot tall marestail and winter annuals. Before they could act on that recommendation, it rained again.

The next call was, “How do we kill marestail and giant ragweed and pigweed.”

Sooner or later, with that kind of pressure, the best response was, “with steel.” But, as you know, this spring’s weather put producers in a difficult spot. You couldn’t get into the field to till, at least not in a timely manner.

The point is, in many cases, a fall-applied herbicide program might have been beneficial. When it comes to fall-applied herbicides there are a lot of different thoughts and theories on what makes the best program for each acre. Fall-applied chemical programs are not one-size-fits-all.

First off, fall-applied chemical programs aren’t being used to control waterhemp or Palmer amaranth. The purpose of a fall-applied program is to keep winter annuals controlled so next spring you can get in the field when conditions allow. Fall programs have little effectiveness on summer annuals. In some cases, you might see a residual effect on summer annuals, but it’s not enough to be considered effective weed control.

In a lot of calls I get, producers want to cut costs and use just a glyphosate/ 2,4-D mix as a fall program. While this program is effective at controlling weeds that have emerged, it doesn’t provide any residual for weeds that will germinate post-application and through spring.

Depending on the weather and germination of winter annual weeds, you may see significant germination after applying initial fall-program herbicides. That’s why I believe it is important to include a residual herbicide in the tank. This allows you to suppress winter annual weeds after application.

One of the main things you have to be aware of when planning a fall application is to account for the chemistries that you applied in the previous growing season.

It’s also important to ask, “What am I planting next year?” Each program comes with its limitations and restrictions. You don’t want to cause more headaches for next year’s growing season. I commonly recommend glyphosate, dicamba/2,4-D, and your choice of residual—depending on what crop you are rotating to next year. Always read and follow the label.

Not all fields are suitable for fall-applied herbicides. I don’t believe that highly erodible fields should be bare all winter. I would like to see some cover left on these fields to keep soil erosion at bay. Soil is a valuable resource. We don’t have the kind of time it takes to build it back.

If you have any questions about what specific herbicide program works on your farm, please contact your local MFA/AgChoice location for recommendations.

Top performers: MFA applicators earn respect from customers and MFA

Written by Dr. Jason Weirich on .

In previous issues of Today’s Farmer, I’ve written about the challenging times ahead for weed control. We’re fighting weeds that evolve to resist whole families of chemistry. We’re lucky to have new crop protection technology to help with weed control, but they will bring challenges of their own. New herbicide systems such as Dicamba- and 2,4-D-tolerant soybeans will take increased oversight. With these systems, we expect high volumes of custom application. It will be paramount for whoever is spraying to understand the target crop’s surroundings. Tank clean-out procedures will take on new critical importance. Wind direction and speeds will factor heavily into where, when and how we spray. And there won’t be any leeway if the wrong field gets sprayed. At MFA, these are practices that we already pride ourselves in doing well. Still, they will become more challenging in the near future.

That’s why I want to take this space to celebrate some of our employees who take their job seriously and deliver real MFA service to our customers.

MFA had its second annual applicator training a few months ago. This training updates our applicators on the latest in spraying technique. Participants spend half a day to update their knowledge and learn about new procedures and technology.

One part of the program is to recognize our top applicators. We seek nominations from throughout the MFA trade territory to highlight custom applicators who really excel at their job and in their community. We use this program to propel nominations to a national competition sponsored by AGCO. The AGCO Operator of the Year is announced each year at the Agricultural Retailers Association annual meeting. It’s a popular program, with a lot of participation. And it is really tough to win. Aside from a trip to the ARA meeting, the AGCO Operator of the Year winner receives a top-end Harley Davidson or cash prize.

I don’t get to brag often enough on our applicators, so take a look at our 2014 MFA Incorporated Operator of the Year finalists. These are the guys that farmers request by name. They are doing a good job for you.

Region 1: Tim Hurst

AGChoice manager Jarod Graves said Hurst has been running custom application machines for a total of 16 years. “Tim will have everything on his machine in tip-top shape when he goes to the field.” As with most modern application rigs, Hurst has to be a good driver, but a computer technician as well, mastering RTK autopilot and multiple products. Aside from his mastery of the equipment, farmers trust Hurst for his instincts and agronomic knowledge. “Farms rely on him to make in-field decisions. Is it too muddy? Is there too much crop residue? Are rows sealing? When farmers know Tim makes these decisions correctly, it puts him in high demand.” Graves said there’s a simple way to describe Hurst: “He takes pride in what he does.”

In his spare time Hurst enjoys time with his three children. He likes to hunt and fish, especially with the kids, and he spends time following his son’s baseball team.

Region 2: Earl Huston

Canton MFA Agri Services manager Angela Schaller said, “Earl Huston is a hard working employee that I never have to worry about. I know he will take care of our customers.” Schaller added that Huston has a unique relationship with MFA customers. They call him personally to book fields that need fertilized or sprayed. Then they don’t worry about it, because, once the call is in, they know Huston will get it done.

“Earl takes a lot of pride in his work. He takes time to know not just the customer, but the customer’s entire family. He treats them how he’d want to be treated if he was in their shoes. He goes to every educational meeting he can, because he wants to know what will best benefit his customers. You’ll often see him spend time scouting a customer’s field because he knows that when farmers succeed, everyone at MFA succeeds. Customers value his opinion and know that he will be honest with them.”

Region 3: David Layne

When fertilizer season is in full gear, you can expect David Layne to be one of the first ones to work in the morning and one of the last to leave.

“When David pulls in the lot in the morning, it’s all about business,” said Boonville MFA Agri Services manager Ronnie Anderson. “If a farmer calls and needs fertilizer on a field before he plants, and plans to start planting at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday, David is there before 6 a.m. getting the job done.”

Anderson said it’s that kind of commitment that has earned Layne the respect of area farmers.

“Customer trust and satisfaction are two of the most important aspects of this business. Anderson said that Layne knows how to push to get a job done. And he knows when conditions get too bad, whether from high winds or wet soils, the quality of work can deteriorate. And Layne understands the farming practices of his customer. He factors all of these variables into his work. “He wants to get the job done right,” said Anderson.

In his spare time, Layne loves to garden. When his garden crops begin to deliver, there is a steady flow of produce on the Boonville MFA Agri Services counter free for whoever stops in.

Region 4: Dave Lawson

Midsouth manager Matt Mauldin said that attention to details and being a life-long member of the community are a successful combination for Lawson. “Dave does an outstanding job. He keeps his truck in top shape. He is always courteous and does a good job spreading. He covers acres with zero customer complaints.”

A self-starter, Lawson takes downtime as serious as time in the field. “He is always finding things to do. He never has to be told to do anything,” said Maudlin. He added that at the end of every day, Lawson washes his truck and inspects it from end to end. That’s a benefit to the company, but it’s a benefit to customers as well. It minimizes downtime. And it helps customers receive timely service.

In his spare time, Lawson likes to spend time with his granddaughter and hunt for arrowheads on the family farm. He is an avid NASCAR fan.

Region 5: Douglas Preston

Weir AGChoice manager Bill Garner said Preston has that trademark of good applicators: customers ask for him by name. “He is very professional when he interacts with customers. And he is knowledgeable about all of our products. Doug makes sure the equipment he uses is in top shape and working order. He keeps it clean and sharp.” In essence, said Garner, Preston’s performance and knowledge give customers trust in him to help make the right decisions for their operations. “Doug’s stewardship for the environment and his willingness to help customers be good stewards of their land really enriches our farming community,” said Garner.

In his spare time, Preston enjoys fishing and gardening.

Precision ag pays on pasture

Written by Jason Worthington on .

This summer, MFA will surpass 260,000 acres in its Nutri-Track program. Because Nutri-Track is typically based on a four-year sampling cycle, and given the pace of sign-ups, we hope to reach more than a million acres with the Nutri-Track sampling program in the next couple years. As you might guess, the majority of these acres are in corn, soybean and sometimes wheat rotation. However, one of the fastest growing segments of intensive soil sampling is pasture and hay ground.

There are good reasons for this surge in interest for site-specific fertility management on forages. Among them are higher cattle prices; increased scrutiny of fertilizer application and its environmental impact; and increased availability of variable-rate application equipment.

There is plenty to gain from precision nutrient management on hay and pasture land. Regardless of whether you grow corn or fescue, plants need balanced amounts of essential nutrients for optimum performance. Whether it’s brome or soybeans planted in a field, nutrients won’t be as readily available unless the pH is at proper levels. And for more intensively managed forage crops like alfalfa, money saved from variable-rate lime applications prior to seeding will offset the cost of grid sampling just as it will prior to row crops. Soil tests need to be taken in a manner that allows you to check nutrient levels, the soil pH, and the variability in the field. Whether your crop of choice is grain or grass, the basics of soil fertility stay the same.

Nutrient and pH variability change with many field-level factors, man-made and otherwise. In row crops, nutrients returned to the soil in the form of stover are usually spread through the combine uniformly and lands not far from where they were removed. In pastures, a major factor in nutrient variability comes from livestock. The nutrients cattle return to the soil via manure will be returned in places where cattle spend the most time. Those areas could be near feed bunks, ponds or waterers, mineral feeders or shade trees. A steer or heifer puts little thought into dispersing nutrients evenly, but with grid sampling, you can figure out the scope and severity of this disproportionate dispersal of nutrients.

Once you have accounted for the existing nutrients available to pasture and forage crops, variable-rate application of nutrients allows you to avoid over-fertilizing areas that cattle have already fertilized. Just as importantly, you can add the right amount of nutrients to optimize forage yield throughout the pasture.

Hay fields may not have cattle redistributing nutrients, but they come with challenges of their own. First, if you compare nutrient removal of 1 ton of cool-season grass hay compared to 67 cow-days on pasture, you will see that the only real equivalence is the amount of nitrogen required. For hay, phosphorous removal is doubled and potassium removal is tripled.

Moving harvested hay from hay fields to feed in a pasture is another form of nutrient redistribution you need to think about. The math gets complicated. Grid sampling helps you track these nutrients and fertilize accordingly.

Nutri-Track and variable-rate fertility are all about accuracy and efficiency. The program helps you put inputs where they are needed and pull back where they are not. These practices will not only save input costs on lime and more evenly distribute nutrients, but they can lead to increased productivity—you can increase stocking rates or grow more hay from the same acres. That’s one low-cost investment that can bring big returns on your beef operation.

Win the battle with brush

Written by David Moore on .

Tree sprouts and other brush species rob vital nutrients and moisture from forage crops and discourage cattle from grazing in heavily infested areas. Controlling woody species in pasture can be a challenge, but it can be done. The financial rewards are great, plus, you’ll have a good looking pasture.

I divide brush into two categories. First, tree sprouts, and second, “other” woody species. The reason I make this distinction is that timing of a herbicide application is different for these categories. For tree sprouts, it’s best to not begin spraying until July 1. In the category of “other” woody species, application timing depends on the target plant.

When producers ask for my recommendation on getting brush out of pastures, I typically ask for something back: a commitment. Either commit to bush-hogging until you kill all the brush or commit to spraying until you kill all the brush. But it’s a trick. Generations of bush-hogging will not kill the brush. However, a few years of smart and diligent herbicide application will get the pasture in shape. Combined approaches generally just extend how long it takes to achieve control. I realize that letting the brush stand will be somewhat unsightly, but it does speed the process. Letting it stand means you don’t have to wait for adequate regrowth to occur to have enough leaf surface to absorb herbicide.

In the “other” woody species category, the most common and most troubling species typically are blackberries, dewberries, greenbrier, buckbrush and multiflora rose. Blackberries and dewberries have the same treatment. I use Chaparral at 2.5 ounces per acre, Remedy Ultra at 1 pint per acre with Astute or Astute Extra (preferred). Timing is a bit of a question. Studies show that the highest percentage kill is achieved by spraying in mid-September. However, if I can kill these plants early, it begins to release lots of grass. Regardless of timing, at least two applications will be necessary. I recommend spraying anytime about a week after full bloom with a second application in September. Typically this results in very good control on pasture ground.

Hay ground creates a new dilemma. On hay ground, the field is mowed before the herbicide application, or the plant is covered by grass canopy. In this case, cut early, cut only once and plan on a September herbicide application. It may take an extra year or two to get the control you desire.

Buckbrush is best controlled with Chaparral at 2.5 ounces per acre, 1 quart of 2,4-D or Hi-Dep per acre with Astute Extra. Control is better with early application—when target weeds fully leaf out in mid-April—but you can get satisfactory results spraying up to the end of May. After June 1, results are unpredictable.

If you have both blackberries and buckbrush in the same field, my approach is 2.5 ounces of Chaparral, 12 ounces of Remedy Ultra and 24 ounces of 2,4-D or Hi-Dep per acre with Astute Extra. Timing is one week after full bloom on the blackberries, but no later than the end of May.

Multiflora rose can be controlled with spot treatments of Grazon Next Hl, Chaparral or Grazon P+D. The key is coverage. Timing is May through August.

Greenbrier is a tough, viny pest. If you don’t have too many of them a dormant application of Remedy Ultra at 1 quart with 3 quarts diesel on the bottom 24-inches of the plant all the way around will do a nice job. If you have too much greenbrier for this labor-intensive method, a broadcast application of 2.5 ounces Chaparral and 1 quart of Remedy Ultra per acre with Astute Extra in mid-June is called for. Expect about 3 years of application before seeing truly promising results.

When it comes to tree species, summer and late summer timing is typically best.

For newer locust sprouts, Grazon Next HL at 1 quart per acre with Astute Extra will do a good job. If they’ve been cut less than five times, you can add 1 pint of Remedy Ultra per acre to clean them up. If you know the sprouts have been cut many times in the past, I have seen the best results using 4 to 6 pints of Surmount per acre with Astute Extra. Timing is mid-June through September.

Hedge (Osage orange) is best controlled with 1.5 to 2 pints of Remedy Ultra per acre with Astute Extra. Timing, again, is mid-June through September.

Oaks and hickory present a difficult challenge. My approach on these species is 2 to 3 pints of Remedy Ultra and 2 to 3 pints of Tordon 22K per acre with Astute Extra. Adding 1 quart per acre of 2,4-D or Hi-Dep can improve results. In this case, Remedy probably gives the most dramatic result, but Tordon keeps the surviving sprouts weak and more sensitive a follow-up application the next year. You can spray oaks and hickory beginning in early July and through September. Expect 2 to 3 years of application. After that, you can finish off the few survivors with Spike pellets or a basal bark application of Remedy Ultra.

Expectations on brush for brush control is an exercise in patience. Typically, the brush you see in a pasture didn’t arrive in just one year and you likely won’t control it in just one year. Be patient—use the right product, at the right rate, at the right time with the right surfactant. You’ll get the control you want over time. Obviously, I have not covered all the brush species. Feel free to contact me for more specific information.


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