Spring Baleage Growth

AUBURN, Ala. – Baleage, often used interchangeably with haylage, is forage that is harvested, baled, ensiled, wrapped and stored in plastic at 40 to 60 percent moisture.

“In the Southeast, cool-season annual grasses and legumes are among the highest quality forages that can be grown in the region,” said Dr. Kim Mullenix, Alabama Cooperative Regional Animal Science and Forages Extension specialist. “These forages can have high levels of soluble carbohydrates, which help with the ensiling process.”

Benefits of Baleage

“Baleage production allows producers to harvest and conserve forage in a shorter time period than dry hay due to reduced drying time,” said Mullenix.

Average percentage moisture of stored forages

Stored Forage Type          Moisture, Percent
Dry hay                                  ≤ 20%
Haylage                                 40 – 60 %
Silage                                     ≥ 65 %
Because of the frequent rainfall conditions in the Southeast, harvesting dry hay at the right stage of maturity and moisture content is more challenging and harvesting as baleage may help shorten this window.

Disadvantages of Baleage

There are, however, several disadvantages to baleage production.

Labor and production costs, for example, can be a limitation for some producers as a high-moisture baler and bale wrapper are needed for production. Producers may consider contract wrapping to lower production costs.

“Additionally, there is a ‘learning curve’ with making the shift from hay to baleage production,” said Mullenix. “Getting forage baled and wrapped at the right moisture content, familiarity with plastic wrap, storage, and feeding of baleage all differ compared with traditional hay production.”

Deer, raccoons and birds can be attracted to baleage but setting up an exclusion area using temporary electric fencing may deter larger wildlife.

Common Mistakes

According to Mullenix there are two common mistakes producers make with baleage.

  • Harvesting too late – Paying close attention to the stage of plant maturity at harvest is key for getting the highest quality baleage. With cool-season annual grasses such as annual ryegrass, the target stage for harvest is the boot stage. This occurs when the flag leaf has just emerged from the center of the plant stem, and before seedhead production begins to occur. Once seedhead production begins to occur, its onset is rapid. Monitor fields closely and try to harvest as the flag leaf begins to emerge. This way if weather conditions become unfavorable, you are still ahead of the “maturity curve”.
  • Moisture content – Putting up baleage either too wet or too dry can lead to spoilage. Test the moisture of forage in the field prior to baling by using a microwave test. Information on how to conduct a microwave test can be found here.

When to Feed and Nutritional Quality

Baleage can be fed as soon as one month after wrapping and the ensiling process is complete and it can be fed as whole bales or chopped or ground and incorporated into mixed rations.

“As with any new feed source, understand that it may take an adjustment period for animals to be accustomed to consuming baleage, particuarly with young, growing animals,” said Mullenix.

Minimize losses by using improved feeding techniques, such as a cone- or ring-type feeder, trailer or cradle.

To prevent spoilage provide animals an amount of baleage that can be consumed within one to two days and enough for one day in the summer months.

The nutritional quality of the baleage at feeding time depends on the nutritional quality of the hay when it was cut.

“What goes in must come out,” said Mullenix, “and putting up low quality forages only means a low quality feed product at the end of the day.”

Proper storage can also impact the feeding value. Wrap bales with a minimum of six layers of plastic while the hay has a moisture range of 40 to 60 percent to decrease storage loss and to produce a more stable product at feeding.

“The stage of plant maturity at harvest is the single largest factor affecting the feeding value of baleage,” said Mullenix. “The nutritional quality of baleage will only ever be as good as the starting product.”

For more information about baleage contact your local Alabama Cooperative Animal Science and Forages Extension specialist.

For more information on feeding baleage to cattle read, Feeding Baleage to Beef Cattle.

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Sand Mountain Elite Heifer Development Program

AUBURN, Ala. —The Sand Mountain Elite Heifer Development Program is an educational program designed for northeast Alabama cattle producers who are interested in growth and development of replacement heifers for their operations. The heifers are developed at the Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center in Crossville, Alabama.

The Goal

Alabama Cooperative Regional Animal Science and Forages Extension agent, Landon Marks, and specialist, Kent Stanford, created the program to demonstrate a heifer development program that showcases the best management practices suggested for Alabama cow/calf producers.

“The goal of the Sand Mountain Elite Heifer Development Program is to develop replacement heifers in a forage-based system, utilizing proper animal husbandry and current technologies,” said Dr. Lisa Kriese-Anderson, Alabama Cooperative Regional Animal Science and Forages Extension specialist.

The program demonstrates management techniques that are necessary for replacement heifers to reach target weights and to be bred successfully, as well as proper development on Alabama forages.

How the Program Works

Northeast Alabama beef producers can bring three or more quality replacement heifers to the Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center for development said Kriese-Anderson.

Heifers arrive in early January and must have been born before February 15th the year before. They will be returned to their owner in June weighing at least 65 percent of their mature weight and have been bred.

Each April the heifers are bred to a low birth weight proven AI sire using AI once. A clean-up bull is placed with the heifers 14 days after AI breeding.

Monthly reports are sent to the producers to keep the updated on their heifers.

The heifers are developed on cool-season grasses and winter foragesannualsforages and are supplemented with grass hay, commodity feed blend and mineral program when needed to maintain a minimum of 1.5 pounds per day gain.

Program preference is given to Nnortheast Alabama beef cow/calf producers.

“A maximum of 65 heifers can be consigned,” said Kriese-Anderson. “If 65 heifers are not consigned by Nnortheast producers, the program is opened up statewide.”

For more information on the rules and regulations of the program can be found here.

Looking to the Future

“We have not reached capacity yetare continuing to build the program,” said Kriese-Anderson. “We would like to have a few more heifers.”

Program developers would also like to grow winter annual forages when there is not a drought or abnormal winter weather. The weather the past two years have created challenges for forages.

The Sand Mountain Elite Heifer Development Program is a program developed for Nnortheast Alabama beef cow/calf producers to aide in the growth and development of the elite heifers from their herds.

For more information about the program contact Landon Marks, mlm0013@aces.edu, or Kent Stanford, stanfmk@aces.edu.

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How Cold is Too Cold? The Impact of Cold Weather on Cool-Season Forages

AUBURN, Ala. – With this year’s unusual winter weather of snow and ice, it is important for producers to know the impact this weather can have on cool-season forages.

The majority of cool-season forages can handle sub-freezing temperatures for short periods of time, but they grow best at 55 to 80 degrees F. said Dr. Leanne Dillard, Alabama Cooperative Extension forage specialist.

Effects of Cold Weather

Because cool-season forages can handle sub-freezing temperatures for short durations in this region, the effects of snow and ice on forage quality are minimal.

“Research has shown that forage quality is greater in forages grown at lower temperatures compared with temperatures above 80 degrees,” said Dillard. “When temperatures drop below freezing, plants no longer grow and reduces forage yield, but that has minimal effect on forage quality.”

Typically, there is slower forage growth in any cool-season forage species, even more cold tolerant grasses such as cereal rye, during January and early February.

“Tall fescue and other small grains are generally able to persist through this time period, and will start to grow rapidly once temperatures reach above 55 degrees,” said Dillard.

There are, however, some cases, usually in oats, where extreme cold will kill the forage.

“Ice itself does not have a negative impact on forages,” said Dillard. “However, repeated freezing and thawing of forages can damage plants and reduce forage yield and stand persistence.”

Minimizing the Effects

The best ways to minimize the effects of the cold weather on cool-season forages is to remember to minimize overgrazing and damage to pasture sod.

By putting animals in a dry lot and feeding hay when forages isn’t growing, animals are prevented from continuous grazing of the forages and it minimizes sod damage because of the animals standing around hay rings or feed troughs said Dillard.

“Overgrazing reduces the plant root mass, which contains the carbohydrate reserve needed to help a plant survive during cold temperatures,” said Dillard. “Early planting dates for both annuals and perennials will ensure plants are large enough to withstand the weather. Cool-season annuals planted 2-4 weeks before a cold snap will likely not survive or will have reduced forage yields in the spring.”

It is also important to make sure pastures have the correct soil fertility because it will help reduce stress on plants and it will help them recover from any extreme cold.

Extreme cold weather will affect the forage yield but with proper management these effects can be minimized.

For more information on cold weather effects on forages contact your local Alabama Cooperative Extension Animal Science and Forages Regional Agent.

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Feedstuff Quality

AUBURN, Ala. – It is important to understand the quality of energy and protein supplements fed to livestock.

“Energy and protein supplements are important because they allow a cattle producer to provide his or her cattle with adequate amounts of nutrients,” said Sarah Dickinson, Alabama Extension Animal Science and Forages Regional Extension Agent.

Energy Supplements

Energy is the available energy in a feedstuff as a percentage of the Total Digestible Nutrients, TDN, in the feed.

Energy supplements are feedstuffs that have a high percentage of TDN (greater than 60 percent TDN) that help meet a cow’s energy needs.

Corn and soyhull pellets are two common energy supplements that are high in TDN but do not provide a considerable amount of protein.

“These supplements would be best utilized when forage protein is adequate and energy is limited,” said Dickinson.

Protein Supplements

Protein supplements are feedstuffs that are high in crude protein, CP, and is used to help meet a cow’s protein needs or help increase the rate of fiber digestion in the cow or both. A feedstuff is considered a protein supplement if the CP is greater than or equal to 25 percent.

“Protein supplements can increase the rate that a low quality fiber is digested, and will thus allow your cows to eat more of that low quality forage than they would without the protein supplementation,” said Dickinson.

A protein supplement can increase an animal’s forage consumption if the forage CP is less than 7 percent.

Soybean meal, cottonseed meal, corn gluten feed and whole cottonseed are common protein supplements. These protein supplements are also high in energy and can be used as energy supplements.

Importance of Feedstuff Quality

“During times when pasture or stored forages do not meet animals’ nutrient requirements, energy and protein supplements can be provided to the herd to fill in the gap between the animals’ requirements and the level of nutrients in the forage,” said Dickinson.

It is important to make sure animals are provided supplements with the proper amount of TDN and CP to ensure they maintain a proper body condition score of 5 or higher.

Proper energy and protein supplements help keep cows in adequate condition to avoid pitfalls or production, such as slower re-breeding rate, lower overall pregnancy rate, more calving difficulty and lower weaning percentage of the calf crop with lower weaning weights.

What to Supplement

When determining what feedstuff is needed to supplement a herd’s diet, producers need to consider the herd’s stage of production, hay or forage quality and their ability to provide supplementation.

A hay test is an easy way to provide producers with the percentage of TDN and CP in their hay and from the results, they can determine the expected intake of their animals and the amount of TDN and CP the herd is expected to consume. Supplementation will be needed if the expected amount of TDN and CP in the hay is less than the animals’ energy and protein requirements.

“While many perennial grass hays will be deficient in both TDN and CP at certain stages of a cow’s productive cycle, producers should take note that TDN is usually the most limiting nutrient in our cow-calf production systems,” said Dickinson.

When to Supplement

Age of the herd, the stage of production the herd is in and forage quality affect the type of feedstuff supplementation required.

For example, young calves will have a higher protein requirement because they are still growing and need the protein to support their rapid growth.

As the herd mature the feedstuff requirements change as they move from calving, lactation, pregnancy and weaning.

“Cows have the highest nutrient requirement during the first three months after calving,” said Dickinson. “This first three month post-calving is a time when cows are in peak lactation, and are trying to re-breed.”

After the cows are re-bred the nutrient requirement will decrease until the calf is born and weaned. The cows’ nutrient requirements will continue to decrease and will remain low until just before she has her next calf.

“Having a defined calving season will allow a producer to better know the needs of his herd since all animals will be in the same stage of production and have similar nutrient needs,” said Dickinson.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

According to Dickinson there are three common mistakes producers make with feedstuff supplementation.

  • Not properly comparing supplements for price: Always compare supplements for price in terms of “cost per pound of nutrient.” For example, if a supplement is 20 percent CP and costs $233 per ton or $233 per 2,000 pounds:

2,000 lbs. x 20% CP= 400 lb. CP

$233/ton ÷ 400 lb. CP= $0.58/ lb. CP

  • Failing to test hay. Without a test to know the quality of the hay any supplementation decisions made will simply be a guess.
  •  Forgetting about the energy. Neglecting to factor in the TDN values in our supplement decisions may lead to animals that are not properly supplemented for energy. Check TDN values on feeds that you purchase and make sure they meet your cows’ energy needs as well as protein.

For more information on feedstuffs and feedstuffs quality contact your local Alabama Cooperative Extension Animal Science and Forages Regional Extension Agent.

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Bull Sales

AUBURN, Ala. – Selecting the right bull is one of the most important management decisions a producer can make.

Importance of Selection

“Bull selection is a very important building block of the genetics in your beef cattle operation,” said Michelle Elmore, Alabama Cooperative Extension System Animal Science and Forages Extension Specialist. “Making informed, sound herd bull selections makes a significant impact of the potential genetic and production level of your herd.”

When replacement heifers are retained in a herd, within 10 years approximately 88 percent of the genetic makeup of a herd will come from the herd bulls, making proper bull selection crucial.

Expected Progeny Differences

Expected Progeny Differences, EPDs, are genetic selection tools used to guide producers to select herd bulls.

EPDs are used to compare a bull’s genetic strengths and weaknesses on a variety of genetic traits.

“Comparing a bull’s EPD values to the current breed average EPD values, which are published for each breed, guides beef producers in selecting the best bull for their herd production goals,” said Elmore.

Additional key production traits to evaluate are birth and weaning weights and ratios, scrotal circumference and frame score.

Selecting Bulls for First Calf Heifers and Mature Cows

When selecting bulls for first calf heifers, producers should focus on calving ease EPDs to increase the percentage of unassisted calving.

However, in selecting herd bulls for both first calf heifers and mature cows it is important to consider weaning and yearling weight EPDs to evaluate the genetic potential of the bull.

“Feeder calves are marketed by live weight, and growth strengths in a herd bull will increase the probability of producing a calf crop with a heavier market weight,” said Elmore.

Common Mistakes in Bull Selections

It is important to give careful consideration to overall soundness and hoof and leg structure of potential bulls before purchasing them.

“Poor structure in hooves and legs will result in limiting a bull’s longevity in your herd,” said Elmore. “If replacement heifers are retained from bulls with poor hoof and leg structure, the problem will grow.”

For more information on proper hoof and leg structure refer to the Foot Score Poster from the American Angus Association.

Because herd bulls can contribute up to 88 percent of a herd’s genetic makeup it is important to ensure the proper bull is selected to meet the genetic and production levels of your herd.

For more information on bull selection and bull sales contact your local Alabama Cooperative Extension Animal Science and Forages Regional Extension Agent or the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association.

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