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Hay Stretchers: Are they for me?

By: Henry Hilscher, Ph.D., Livestock Nutrition Center

What are signs I need a hay stretcher?
With the hot dry conditions and lack of rainfall lately, hay production has been in serious decline in the central southern US. This is putting on a strain on current forage availability, and also winter forage supplies as most producers in this geography rely on a winter hay feeding program. As you are evaluating pastures we always try to get customers to put into 25% increments the level of forage “shortage”… as estimating forage quantity is very difficult to visually appraise. Therefore, do we need to replace 25, 50, 75 or 100% of the forage? Since pasture conditions and forage quantity can be so fluid … guessing at 25% increments is about as accurate as you could expect to get to. Additionally, looking a hay inventories and what will be available this winter will be a good indication of a need for a forage/hay stretcher. It is much easier to stretch forage/hay earlier than later and conserve what you have than to run out and be forced to feed 100% of the diet or sell cows.

How will a hay stretcher benefit my operation?
Hay/forage stretchers are designed to fill in the gaps when forage/hay quantity and quality are inadequate. Using a hay/forage stretcher can help in these scenarios and also allow for improved efficiency in your operation, by utilizing a stretcher you could incorporate a vitamin and mineral package into the feed to decrease costs over free choice minerals. Additionally, the incorporation of an Ionophore into the feed allows for a decrease in feed intake while maintaining BCS (body condition score). Lastly, it may be an opportunity to sort cows into feeding groups, allowing for better targeting of cow needs by stage of production, BCS, and age.

How much will I need to use?
LNC will work with you to come up with the best solution for your forage/hay needs. We can target different feeding rates based on the stage of production and the amount of forage availability. Typically forage/hay stretchers can be fed from 1 to 2% of BW depending on the situation.