Making hay when the sun doesn’t shine

Fire isn’t the only worry–hot hay damages nutritional value

Depending on the operation, hay production can be a high priority or an afterthought shoved out of the way by spring planting. From a feed value perspective, though, it is crucial to minimize risks and losses in the field. It is essential to maintain forage quality and to protect the forage from storage losses.

It is spring. And, certainly, precipitation damage can reduce the quality and mass of harvested forage. Harvests of hay are frequently complicated by poor drying and the threat of unexpected rainfall. You often are forced to choose between baling hay before adequate drying has occurred or subjecting wilting hay to rain damage.

For hay that is not adequately dry, a potential problem is spontaneous heating. This process occurs when plant sugars are respired in CO2, water and heat up via microorganisms–principally fungi.

Traditionally, hay research has used small square bales to study how hay reacts to different conditions. However, due to cost and the limited labor available to handle conventional rectangular hay bales, many producers have been forced to consider larger bale sizes. Generally, larger bale sizes are more prone to heat spontaneously and require a reduced threshold moisture for acceptable storage. In addition, round bales show more measurable effects of spontaneous heating than are usually seen in a small rectangular hay bale. In other words, you’ll more often see brown spots in the middle of big bales.

Of course, brown spots aren’t good, but a hay fire is a total loss. A hay fire leaves you less worried about the nutritional value at stake and more concerned about the loss of a barn.
From personal experience, I can attest that it is really important to know the coverage and limits of an insurance product before a fire, rather than finding out the coverage after a fire. So, let’s concentrate on prevention.

It’s wet hay that causes fires. With adequate moisture to maintain the relative humidity of the air in the hay mass at 95 percent to 97 percent, heat generated by plant enzymatic activity and microbial growth may push temperatures to 160° F within a few days. This progression may take several weeks.

Above 160°F, oxidative chemical reactions are responsible for additional heat generation. This auto-oxidation greatly increases the potential for further rapid increase to combustion temperatures. In some research I’ve looked at, mixed hay at 44 percent moisture took a month to reach a temperature of 195° F, but then increased to 330° F in only three more days. Soluble carbohydrates were almost completely eliminated in the hay that reached 330° F.

Spontaneous combustion requires large quantities of oxygen. Thermal conductivity of dry hay is lower than moist hay, so heat transfer to the outside of the bale becomes progressively less effective as the hay dries. Thus, hay temperatures may increase rapidly after much of the moisture has been removed. Spontaneous combustion occurs near the outside of the bale because oxygen levels in the interior are reduced by microbial respiration.

To avoid hay fire damage
•    Adequate drying is the best solution; dry hay won’t produce heat-inducing fungi
•    Do not stack hay close to power lines, electric fences, trees or buildings
•    Do not park equipment close to hay stacks
•    Ensure adequate separation of stacks–use multiple stacks to reduce the chance of larger loss, especially with suspect hay
•    Exclusion of oxygen is an option: make silage
•    Use anti-mycotics (hay preservers) to allow more time for the hay to dry and knock down microbial growth

Fires are obvious. But bales that don’t get hot enough to burn can still deliver a non-visible loss, nutritionally speaking.

Hay that has gotten hot will test higher for crude protein than what the animal results indicate. It will look brown—and more brown if it was hot for a long time. You’ll also see this process in hay silage crops. They’ll come out looking and smelling like chewing tobacco. In corn silage, you’ll see heat-damaged kernels, which are usually associated with drier or poorly packed silages.

This is significant nutritionally because of what we call ADICP, the crude protein recovered within insoluble acid detergent fiber.

The browning reaction is important because ADICP has very low bioavailability to cattle. That’s what I mean by hay testing higher for crude protein than the livestock indicate.

If you are feeding heat-damaged hay or haylage, expect animals to digest the material at a higher rate (the rate of passage declines and digestibility increases). This often reduces energy intake on the animals, which is a big deal if you have cows that are on the feed to maintain their weight.
ADICP is commonly used as an indicator of heat damage; as hay heating increases, so does the ADICP. And while research is mixed, in general terms, you can count on crude protein in the hay plummeting if it has gotten hot.

Prevention is the best choice.

Dr. Jim White is a MFA's ruminant nutritionist. Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  • Created on .
  • Hits: 2732

Biosecurity is everyday livestock management

PED in swine reminds us that prevention is the best defense against livestock disease

PED virus is a relative of the TGE virus that many of us know from previous years in the pork industry. This PED virus came from the Orient, impacts swine in ways very similar to the old TGE, and began creating havoc and massive losses in the U.S. swine industry last June. To date, through the Jan. 17, the disease has been diagnosed in 2,394 laboratory submissions across the USA and has been confirmed in 23 states.

The top five states in number of positive submissions are Iowa, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Kansas. These five states have 82 percent of the positive case submissions. Missouri is on the list with 18 positive submissions. Some of the studies looking at the spread of this virus have found it present on tires of vehicles, inside cleaned livestock trailers/trucks, and, believe it or not, on the floor of convenience stores frequented by producers and employees.

I won’t spend time on the details of the disease and I don’t want to create a “germophobic” state of mind, but this disease and its devastating effects on infected herds should serve as a reminder to every livestock producer of any species that preventing disease entry into their production operation should be one of the focal points of their management efforts. 


Biosecurity is most simply preventing the entry (external biosecurity) and spread (internal biosecurity) of disease in a livestock operation. It requires attention to items coming into the operation (animals, people, equipment, products and services) to make sure they aren’t carrying infectious agents that could be presented to the herd. It also requires attention to how things are done within the operation. It is important to think through exposure points when handling sick animals. Make biosecurity an integral part of logistics as you move feed, equipment and animals from one area of the operation to another. And remember, people moving from place to place should observe biosecurity protocols  to minimize spread of disease if it occurs. We’ve been reminding producers and our own MFA employees that products, people, equipment and animals can play a role in disease spread. 

The early season jackpot and regional shows have begun. As you go to shows, whether you take animals or not, think about biosecurity as you come back home to your own operation. Boots and coveralls can carry disease back home. 

If you take animals to shows, preventing disease may require equipment cleaning and quarantine of show animals returning to the home place. Much the same can be said about visits to livestock auctions and bringing new or replacement animals home.

This discussion is sure to evoke thoughts of extra work and inconvenience. But that is what it takes to do the job right and help prevent disease and the production loss it can create. I read a quote from a veterinarian from Ohio this week that stated, “If biosecurity doesn’t inconvenience you…  you aren’t doing it right.” Doing the extra work and dealing with the inconvenience takes perseverance and encouragement. Be that source of encouragement and remind your customers and coworkers in agriculture about the daily importance of biosecurity.

And the subject could be good discussion and education point for your non-agricultural friends and neighbors! 

  • Created on .
  • Hits: 2407

Calf scours is a common setback

Good nutrition and vigilant care can limit loss

Calf scours is costly to your herd. Most veterinarians tell me the general causes of calf scours are infectious bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella or clostridia. Or the source can be viruses such as rotavirus, coronavirus or BVD. And finally, parasites such as coccidian or crypto can cause scours.

Livestock pass these disease agents through manure. As animals shed these infectious agents, their bacteria and virus numbers build up where animals spend the most time.

Overcrowding particularly exacerbates the problem—causing the infectious agents to drastically increase in the environment (additional stress leads to increased shedding).

Scours affect calves most often through dehydration and altering the animal’s acid/base balance. Additionally the lining of the intestine becomes inflamed. If the calf has enteritis, its ability to absorb nutrients is reduced and its growth rate is negatively affected. Some infectious agents, say clostridia, can release endotoxins that can kill the calf.

These infectious agents are very common, yet frequently they are seen in some places and not in others. This variability goes to show there are many factors in the incidence of infection and disease among livestock. Some variables include genetics (some lines are heartier than others), nutrition, underfeeding protein and available energy. Lack of vitamins or minerals can significantly influence calf performance as well.

The dam is another factor–calves from heifers tend to be at greater risk than the calves of mature cows.

Stocking rates affect the incidence of scours. Overcrowding barn lots increases the chance of scours, and the longer cows are in an area, the greater the buildup of infectious agents. Of course wet and cold weather, which makes the herd pack together, increases the load of infectious agents. In fact, wet conditions in general give scour-causing agents a better chance to infect hosts. You’ve all seen it: cows lay down in the slop; calves suck their dirty teats and the disease agents are introduced to the calf.

The herd and individual dam’s vaccination/immune status also has an affect on the incidence of scours. A healthy dam will produce antibodies to counter disease organisms and store them in her colostrum. One of the most important things in a calf’s life is to get adequate quality and quantity of colostrum.

What to look for
Usually when calves are scouring, they will look weak, depressed and have lost their desire to eat. They will develop a sunken-eyed appearance due to dehydration. They will appear listless, and might be too weak to stand. At this point it is likely their future is short.

Depending on the cause(s) and the severity of the infection, a case of scours in a calf can last anywhere from a day to two weeks. During this time, you’ll observe watery fecals. Fecals may be off-color or may contain blood or mucus. Fecals with significant blood are usually associated with infections by coccidian, salmonella or clostridium bacteria.

Prevention and cure
One of the best prevention paths for scours is to feed a high-quality supplemental feed like Cattle Charge. Even better, you can simply follow Health Track protocols for all growing animals. It builds immunity and provides needed nutrients.

Because many of the infectious agents that cause calf scours are shed by healthy cows and calves, it is not considered practical to expect to prevent scours from ever occurring on your farm. Instead, you should work toward a target to have no more than two or three percent of your calf crop develop scours.

Maintain a clean calving area. Do not calve on pastures where cows have been kept in large numbers for long periods of time. If possible, segregate calves by age to prevent passage of infectious agents from apparently healthy, older calves to newborns. This usually entails moving cows that have not calved into new pastures while keeping pairs in pastures where the calves were born. Pregnancy exams can be used to sort cows into early and late-calving groups.

Sloped or drained areas will tend to be drier and cleaner for cattle. If pastures cannot be rotated, consider dragging the pasture to increase the dispersion and drying of manure.

It is critical that all calves receive adequate colostrum as soon as possible after birth. If the birth was difficult, the dam may be tired and hurting. And, the calf might also be weakened. Under either circumstance, the calf might fail to nurse. In these cases, the calf should be fed colostrum. You can get colostrum replacers from your local MFA.

Vaccinating the cow herd against scours-causing diseases will help increase immunity to the disease. Work with your veterinarian to develop an effective program. When vaccinating cattle, ensure that they are getting adequate energy, protein, vitamins and minerals (supplemental feed will help ensure that they are in good enough condition to get the proper response from the vaccine).

Treating scours
Many of the bugs we’re talking about here also affect people, so when you’re working with infected animals, wear gloves. Thoroughly wash and disinfect clothing, equipment and anything in contact with the sick calves. From a practical perspective this means you should do chores among healthy calves first, then work on the sick ones (and then clean and disinfect).

The principle objective of treating scours is to get lost water and electrolytes back into the calf. This is “fluid therapy” and the intent is to relieve the dehydration, correct the animal’s acid/base balance, replace cations (sodium, potassium) lost in the scours. For rough figuring, expect calves to need a gallon of fluids each day. The faster they tighten up, the happier you’ll be. Letting them drink on their own is what you hope for, but if they won’t or can’t drink enough on their own, there a couple ways to introduce fluids.

Orally: if the calf can stand, grab it and dose with an esophageal feeder. Always follow label directions when making up the electrolyte solution, this will typically mean using plain, clean water to make the solution. I resist the temptation to make it better by adding some of the secret ingredients you hear about: vinegar, evaporated milk, corn syrup solids, etc.

Intravenous: obviously this is for very weak calves–ones that can’t stand and look like they might end up in the mortality column. You and your vet need to work out the path forward for treating such calves.

Scouring calves frequently do not want to nurse, they tend to lay about and shiver. Keeping them warm, hydrated and fed an energy source will do much to help them get over the incident. Scours may require a course of antibiotics. If that’s the case, your veterinarian will be of great help determining the appropriate antibiotic treatment.

Dr. Jim White is a Ruminant Nutritionist for MFA Incorporated. READ MORE OF DR. JIM WHITE'S ARTICLES HERE.

  • Created on .
  • Hits: 3871

Control costs on winter feeding

Feed values and the right shelter blunt the cost of winter feeding

Cold stress costs money. How much it costs depends on how you prepare for cold weather. The best management approach is to balance sound nutrition with mitigating the cold with good resting environments. 

Cold stress in beef cattle results when the effective temperature an animal endures is low enough to cause the animal’s metabolic rate to increase. This compensation requires more energy to keep a cow’s critical functions going.

A cow’s “thermoneutral” zone is the temperature where the animal does not use additional energy to cool or warm herself while maintaining basic metabolism: eating, sleeping, etc. Broad research indicates a temperature of 18°F is the lowest temperature a cow with a heavy, dry winter coat will tolerate before she becomes cold stressed. 

The principal factors responsible for cold stress are fairly obvious, but they do work in combination to affect total amount of cold stress. They are: lot conditions, physical activities and weather conditions.

In the barn lot, poor conditions such as wet, muddy, unprotected resting and feeding areas mean extra work for your cows to stay warm. It takes extra energy to maintain body temperature with a wet or matted hair coat. Polar bears might burrow into deep snow to stay warm, but the same trick does not work well for cows. To compensate for this fact, cows will increase their feed intake to meet the increased energy need.

Years ago, when unrolling hay for cows on the Dakota/Minnesota border, I would sometimes see cows lay on the hay before they ate. There seems to be a point where, for a cow, it is more important to rest than to eat. The absence of dry resting and feeding areas can be a significant factor in cold stress. Providing adequate bedding reduces the animals energy requirement. It saves feed and keeps weight on cows. 

In addition to lot factors, cow body condition can erode when the animals are not meeting their required nutritional needs. Sometimes this occurs because a producer might have used the nutrition algorithm of “the feed that is cheapest wins.” The result of that plan is that you might be unable to meet the herds’ nutrient needs because feeds were bought according to cost rather than nutrient value. Feeds that can’t meet nutrition requirements in cold weather can be the beginning of a fix that ends up costing more than better feed would have to begin with. If it is cold, wet and windy, I can end up with cows really deep into the Cattle Charge bin—and really quick.

If adequate feed energy is not provided during extremely cold conditions, the cow will use body fat to meet her requisite energy needs; additionally, it is likely that she will also mobilize body protein out of muscle tissue, losing both body fat and muscle. If this happens for an extended period of time, cows use up excessive body fat and muscle. After that, they might end up in the mortality column. 

Wind chill and lower temperatures are major players in determining a cow’s energy needs. Wind chill effects can be reduced by providing windbreaks. Having at least a 50 percent solid break is requisite, and having it covered to help keep them dry will further reduce the amount of feed required to keep their body temperature where it needs to be. 

As an example, let’s assume a mid-gestation beef cow that weighs 1,350 to 1,400 pounds. She is going to need about 24 pounds of dry matter and 12 pounds of TDN per day if it is a comfortable 30 degrees F and dry. However for every two degrees F the temperature drops, she will need another half pound of TDN, or, for rough figuring, a pound of hay.

As the temperature drops, there soon comes a point that she will not be able to eat enough hay. At that point, the higher energy needs will only be met by feeding additional concentrates. And that too will hit a limit. 

To budget for winter feeding (both economically and in terms of feedstuffs), it is important to know the nutrient value of forages and feeds on the farm. By using feed analyses you can more closely match the nutrient needs of the cow and reduce winter feeding costs. You certainly do not want to underfeed cows. Overfeeding is wasteful. Knowing the nutrient content and feedstuff inventory gets you closer to matching their nutrient needs without overfeeding or underfeeding them. 

Feed sample analysis is a nominal cost in the expense column for a livestock operation. And, knowing the nutritional value of the feed and forage on your farm can potentially save substantial expense. It will cost you to overfeed. And it’ll cost you if you underfeed. But if you know what you’re putting in the feeders and keep your cows in condition, they’ll calve easier and breed back better. You’ll get a better paycheck for your effort.

Dr. White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

  • Created on .
  • Hits: 2032

The perfect mix

Creating a total mix ration (TMR) is a thing of beauty. If you don’t have a TMR wagon, that’s OK—MFA offers many great complete and limiter feed options for weaning calves, forage extension and protein/energy boosts where the mixing is already done for you. However, if you are an operator with a TMR wagon, it’s likely you recognize many advantages you receive with MFA/AGChoice bases or commodity blends and your local-favorite forages.

The objective in using a TMR vehicle is to deliver a thorough mix of all ingredients to the entire group on feed. A well-mixed ration ensures that every bite has the nutrients you expect to give your investment. Depending on your operation, you may use you TMR wagon every day or just seasonally. No matter how frequently you use it, here is a review of some items to keep in mind to ensuring smooth and reliable feeding.

Maintenance Plan: Depending on use level, have a periodic, recordable plan (or a monthly reminder) to service and inspect the mixer. The Feed equipment require regular maintenance for conisistnant feed.plan should include housekeeping periodically inside the mixer to remove twine/plastic and buildup on the augers. For mixers with hay processing, check for missing or dull blades; auger flighting/paddles/kickplates. Make sure none are bent or missing.
Load cells: If pulling the wagon out of the shed after summer, inspect and test to make sure rodents haven’t damaged wires. If using daily, periodic testing is recommended to assure the right amount is weighed for nutritional consistency and to indemnify ingredient inventory. Try to avoid excessive bouncing of the mixing vehicle which can lead to damage of load cells.

Particle size of forages: Smaller and consistent particle size of forages will enhance mix uniformity and reduce sorting in the bunk. It is important, however, to keep enough forage length to ensure appropriate rumen function and health, particularly for diets that are less than 25 percent effective fiber. The appropriate length of forage is one-half to three-quarters of an inch for most production systems.
Fill order of ingredients: Follow manufacturers recommendations. Be aware of scenarios such as wet co-products (for example, wet distillers grains) added behind ground corn and protein/mineral mix. This can often lead to feed balls containing high levels of protein and mineral.
Inclusion rate of ingredients: Be aware of the size of smaller additive ingredients, such as vitamin and mineral packages. Ensure they can be appropriately mixed throughout the batch. The size will be dependent to match the capacity of the mixer. As a general rule, the smallest additive size should be at least five times the scale accuracy. For example, if the scale weighs in five-pound increments, the minimum addition would be 25 pounds.

Over-fill: Exceeding the mixer’s capacity will create segregated pockets of feed that can float on top of the feed mix and/or get trapped in corners or other voids. These unmixed pockets will not be properly dispersed throughout the batch, thereby altering the nutrient content within the batch. Consequently, the feed being delivered will be inconsistent across the bunk. Dairy cattle typically feed within the same area of the bunk line every day. If the wagon is always over-filled, some may be consistently receiving more nutrients/medication daily, and the balance of the group will be getting below-expected dosages.

Under-fill: Always try to follow the manufacturers recommendation for minimum batch size as too-small batch size may not allow thoroughly mixing.

Mixing time: Establish a consistent and appropriate mixing time to ensure thorough mixing and consistency load to load.

Super magnets on discharge chute: It is amazing what kind of metallic junk you can find on the end of a discharge chute. Having high quality magnets at the discharge is highly recommended to prevent hardware disease. Consistently clean magnets for maximum effectiveness.

To ensure a perfect mix, you can take samples immediately after delivering to the bunk and test for markers such as monensin and minerals such as salt, calcium or magnesium. As a service, ask one your MFA or AGChoice representatives to gather this data for you.

Marc Epp is a ruminant nutritionist serving MFA’s AGChoice locations in Kansas.

  • Created on .
  • Hits: 2519

About Today's Farmer magazine

Today's Farmer is published 9 times annually. Printed issues arrive monthly except combined issues for June/July, August/September and December/January. Subscriptions are available only in the United States.

If you would like to begin or renew a print subscription, CLICK HERE and go to our shop. We are proud to offer the subscription for only $15 per year.

 ©2019 MFA Incorporated.

Connect with us.