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A Quick Guide to Hay Feeding on Meadows & Pastures

A black and white calf eats hay outside in the field.

Livestock often need to be fed hay during part of the winter or in the summer during droughts. Hay, pasture and supplemental feeds contain nutrients needed by both plants and livestock. The majority of these nutrients are excreted by animals in their manure and urine. To recover and recycle these nutrients where they can be effectively used again, hay feeding needs to be managed in tune with soil fertility.

Use the following management guidelines for winter feeding on meadows and pastures:

  1. Soil test all meadows and pastures to determine their fertility status every three to five years.
  2. Feed hay in hay meadows to return nutrients removed in harvest and build soil fertility into the optimum range.
  3. Feed hay in pastures to build soil fertility into the optimum range.
  4. Feed 50 feet away from fence lines, water tanks and wind breaks, 100 feet away from streams and 200 feet away from household wells and springs.
  5. Do not feed more than one bale in the same spot in one feeding season.
  6. Rotate feeding areas across hay fields in a four- to six-year cycle.
  7. Feed bales in feeders during wet, muddy weather.
  8. Unroll bales on dry or frozen ground.
  9. Do not winter feed on wet soils that will not take the animal traffic.
  10. Feed on wet ground when frozen or during summer droughts to return nutrients.
  11. Spread seed and chain harrow in spring after the feeding season to revegetate the area.
  12. If needed, cultipack or roll the feeding area in spring to smooth the area.

Table 2. Fertilizer value of hay, pasture and supplemental grains (pounds of nutrients per ton of 90% dry matter). Nutrients in hay and pasture is related to forage quality measured as crude protein (CP). Nutrients in grains and grain by-products are less variable than hay and pasture.

Hay and Pasture

CP N
P2O5
K2O
CaCO3
MgCO3
6
17
9
30
23
10
8
23
10
34
25
11
10
29
11
38
26
12
12
35
12
42
28
13
14
40
12
45
30
13
16
46
13
49
31
14
18
52
14
53
33
15
20
58
15
57
35
16
Range covering 67% of observations ±3 ±11 ±11 ±4

Grains & By-product Feeds

Type
N
P2O5 K2O CaCO3 MgCO3
Corn
29
12
10
1
8
Corn gluten feed
69
44
32
4
27
Distillers grain
90
36
23
4
20
Soybeans
105
22
37
10
14
Soybean hulls
39
7
30
28
16
Soybean meals
147
30
30
18
20

Table 3. Fertilizer nutrients recycled during grazing a pasture is much greater than those removed in exported animal products.

Recycling or removed P2O5 K2O
6 AUM grazing (2.3 tons dry matter) 40
152
500-pound steer 7
1
100 cwt milk 23
17

The economic value of conserving nutrients in hay, pasture and supplemental feeds varies from year to year but averages about $1 per day for every 1,000 pounds of livestock fed. For 30 head of cattle, this is about $3,700 for a 100-day feeding period. Management that keeps fertilizer nutrients where they do the most good makes economic sense.


Author: Ed Rayburn, Forages and Agronomy Specialist
Last Reviewed: February 14, 2019
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