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Hay Quality: Is it good enough?

Bushfires and dry seasonal conditions have led to strong demand in hay supplies with many generous donations being distributed to those in need. 

However, with hay quality varying more than most other types of supplements, an important question is whether it’s the best feed for livestock, especially when pasture is limiting and winter approaches. 

Agriculture Victoria Livestock Extension Officer Fiona Baker said livestock producers need to be assessing whether the hay they have received or have on-hand is sufficient quality to meet the energy, protein and fibre requirements of their animals. 

“Occasionally the fibre level of a feed, particularly hay, can be too high and an animal cannot eat enough to meet its energy requirements, which may result in weight loss,” Ms Baker said. 

“This is particularly important for an animal that is lactating as its energy and protein requirements essentially double.” 

To maintain weight, ewes or cows require feed that contains six per cent crude protein, while weaned stock need eight per cent and lactating stock 10 per cent (as a minimum). 

“Often the ewe or cow can easily consume enough hay while dry to maintain her weight, but once she has given birth and is lactating, she cannot eat enough of that same hay to meet her increased energy requirements,” Ms Baker said.  

“Once lactating, if there is limited green pick available in the pasture, the stock will need to be supplemented with grain or pellets in addition to the hay.

“Poor quality hay is sufficient as a fibre supplement but should be combined with a higher energy supplement like grains if needed for stock with high energy and protein requirements.’

Ms Baker advised producers who are feeding hay as a large proportion of the diet to their sheep or cattle to closely monitor those animals for weight loss. 

“It is recommended that hay samples be sent to a laboratory for testing, to obtain feed quality information,” she said. 

“The producer can then make the necessary dietary decisions and improvements.” 

Agriculture Victoria livestock officers can assist with putting a feed budget together to ensure the ration will meet livestock requirements going into winter.   

Drought feeding books for sheep and cattle contain information on cow and sheep requirements as well as a guide to conducting and interpreting feed tests (Chapter 5 in the cattle book and Chapter 3 in the sheep book).

The books are available from the Feeding Livestock website or by ringing the Customer Service Centre on 136 186, who can also refer you to a livestock officer.