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Feeding Two or Three Year Old Hay or Silage January 7, 2022, contributed by Yaremcio Ag Consulting, Ltd.

Older hay and silage can be fed to cows and calves as long as extra attention is paid to animal condition or performance. Changes to regular supplementation programs may be required.

Dry hay bales deteriorate when left outdoors unprotected from the weather. Bacteria grow on and in the bales. Soluble sugars and soluble proteins present in the hay are consumed to support their growth. This reduces the amount available for the animals. Original feed test results from two or three years ago are not accurate, and the feeds should be retested. Expect fibre levels to increase and the energy and protein content to decrease.

Vitamin A and E precursors present in growing forages gradually oxidize and are destroyed after the hay is cut. Supplementation is recommended after the hay is stored for six months. Hay that is two or three years old will not have any precursors available. Chopped or bale silage goes through a fermentation process which destroys the precursors, and feeding of vitamins is required as soon as this type of feed is in the ration.

Bale weights decrease during storage. Moisture evaporates. The loss of soluble sugars and proteins also contribute to the weight loss. A bale can be 100 to 200 pounds lighter compared to the original weight. Feeding programs need to be adjusted to provide an adequate amount of feed.

Certain types of molds can produce mycotoxins if environmental conditions are favourable. Testing for colony forming units (CFU’s) per gram indicates how much growth has occurred. A separate test for mycotoxins is required. The presence of red, green, blue or pink moulds may indicate that mycotoxins are present.

Spoilage on the top and outer edges of a silage pit or pile should be removed prior to feeding. If the ration contains 5% of the spoiled material; digestibility of the ration is decreased by 10%. If levels are higher than 5%, feed intake can be reduced as well.

When feed supplies are limited, older feeds can be an option. Introduce the older feeds slowly and evaluate both the animal response to the feed and the manure that is produced.

Barry Yaremcio

Ruminant Nutritionist


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