A Broken Record – Another Wet Hay Season


   The southern part of the state has seen an abundance of rain or rain showers that has prevented producers from baling hay or planting crops.  One farmer has planted his bean crop twice; the last one received 2.5 inches of rain shortly after planting. Supposedly a cold front will be moving through and forcing the recent rains out of the region. Besides the usual Midwest hot and humid weather, there are now even more challenges to take into consideration when managing your livestock.
   This has become a broken record; harvesting hay this year has been trying to say the least. I have seen numerous cut hay fields that were rained on or the hay is still standing. The standing hay has matured well past the more nutritious vegetative growth to less nutritious flowering state. Keep in mind that even a slight amount of rain on curing hay can cause serious losses of feed quality. The losses occur because much of the nutrition in the plant is water soluble and can be removed by leaching.
   Also key environmental factors like temperature and soil moisture status cannot be disregarded when trying to explain or predict forage quality characteristics. Making a prediction of forage quality based solely on morphological stage – vegetative versus reproductive stage – often is erroneous when confounding environmental conditions exist. These environmental factors are interactive. For example, the ideal growing conditions from the standpoint of forage quality would be negated by high temperatures during a drought when forage quality drops fast and maturity accelerates.  
   This year it may be prudent to have the nutritive value of the hay determined prior to feeding due to weather volatility during hay production. Testing forage quality is a valuable management tool that can assist in formulating nutritionally balanced rations resulting in a more predictable animal response, minimizing waste, and evaluation of forage management practices (growing, harvesting, and storage).
   The copious rain has also hindered pasture weed management; pasture mowing and spraying has been delayed several times. During pasture walks, I have noticed an invasion of thistles. Thistles have become prominent along roadways which ultimately invade pastures. If thistles are present, it is important to identify whether they are either perennial or biennial and then decide on a management plan. Thistle management will combine various cultural, mechanical, and chemical measures.
   If you plan to mow your pastures and you are behind on hay production, you may want to consider harvesting the pasture forage for hay; poorer quality hay is better than “snowballs” especially when the cattle are supplemented appropriately.
   Until pasture management is back on track, do not forget to watch for pink eye. I have seen several calves with pink eye which can cause weight loss of up to one half pound per day.
   Pink eye is caused by the Moraxella bovis bacteria. The surface of the bacteria is covered by hair-like structures known as pili, which attach or adhere to the conjunctiva or the cornea. Adhesion prevents the bacteria from being washed away by tears and blinking. Other bacteria and viruses can produce the red and swollen eyelids or conjunctivae without the involvement of the cornea that is typical of pinkeye.
   There are several factors that predispose cattle to contract pink eye. Unpigmented eyelids and white hair on the face do not absorb ultraviolet light, which in turn increases the susceptibility of the calf to M. bovis. Another factor that increases the susceptibility of the calf to M. bovis is irritation of the eye by dust or plant material from mature, unmowed pastures.
   Flies also increase the chances of exposure and spread of M. bovis bacteria by feeding around the face and eyes of affected cattle and then transferring infected eye fluids to other animals. The disease can also be spread by humans, particularly when they are not wearing disposable gloves or applying disinfectants to halters or other objects involved in handling affected animals. Pinkeye outbreaks occurred long before face flies became a problem. Poor herd immunity results in a greater number of animals shedding M. bovis, thereby increasing the level of exposure of calves.
   Although many cattlemen may be behind on chores due to rain, it is still important to observe your cattle. Cattle production and management is the culmination of numerous decisions. Producers should begin planning as soon as possible – it is much cheaper and easier than treating problems. ∆
   DR. TERESA L. STECKLER: Extension Specialist, Animal Systems/Beef, University of Illinois
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