What is in this article?:
- Annual hay contest illustrates difficult year for Southeast growers
- Weather challenges a drag
- Wet weather early in the season and widespread disease and insect damage later in the season made making high-quality forage a challenge in the Southeast hard this year, but an annual contest shows some producers were still able to make some good hay.
THOUGH GOOD quality hay was made in the Southeast this year, the numbers were down for the annual Southeast Hay Contest, marking a tough year for producers facing soggy weather and rampant disease and insect pressure.
Weather challenges a drag
Weather challenges placed a drag on the average quality of the samples. The average relative forage quality, or RFQ, value in each category was down from 2012.
But winning producers found a way to make high quality hay despite the weather. The winning RFQ values for each category were on par with or greater than the winning RFQ values for previous years, with the exception of the alfalfa and perennial peanut category. This year’s weather challenges really highlight that good management can make a difference over the long run.
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In the past, hay quality prediction equations were based on the fiber concentration of the hay crop. However, forage crops can have similar fiber content yet have very different digestibility. For instance, Tifton 85 bermudagrass often has a higher fiber concentration than other bermudagrass varieties, yet it is more digestible.
This improved digestibility results in enhanced animal performance, but is not reflected using traditional forage testing methods.
The RFQ index was developed by the University of Florida and the University of Wisconsin to predict the fiber digestibility and animal intake of harvested crops. Since 2003, hundreds of warm-season samples have been used to refine the RFQ equation for bermudagrass and other warm season forages. Currently, all forage sample results from the UGA Feed and Forage Testing Lab in Athens contain an estimate of RFQ.
RFQ helps producers to easily categorize and price hay lots based on relative quality. Producers can purchase hay lots depending on its end use. For example, there is little need to feed high-quality hay to livestock that could easily utilize poorer quality forage.
Hay with a RFQ of 115-130 can be fed to maintain beef cow-calf pairs, hay with an RFQ of 125-150 is adequate for stocker cattle or young growing replacement heifers, and hay with an RFQ of 140-160 is suitable for dairy cattle in the first three months of lactation.