Feed is an important aspect of cattle farming. The type of feed provided to livestock determines their ability to tolerate rampant diseases and infections, thus maintaining animal health. It also determines the growth rate of cows and their ability to produce superior quality milk and meat that commands a higher market value. Cattle feed is often made up of hay with limited supplements of commercially produced pellets to counter nutrient deficiencies. An important point to remember is that not all types of hay are similar. Some are more nutritious than others whereas some pose higher health risks in comparison. Farmers should therefore be aware of the nutritional content of hay in use so as to provide an appropriate supplement when necessary. As such, this article will equip farmers with the necessary knowledge about different types of hay for cattle.

Alfalfa Hay

Alfalfa is considered as one of the highest quality forages thus is widely used as cattle feed. It is among the few types of hay for cattle that is capable of sustaining levels of production that are comparable to those achieved in the feedlot. This is due to its superior nutritional value as well as lower fibre content which makes it highly palatable to cattle. Alfalfa is rich in protein, minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium) and carbohydrates among other nutrients. It generally has high digestibility energy and contains about 18% protein necessary for growth, maintenance, lactation and reproduction.

In addition, alfalfa is one the most preferred types of hay for cattle owing to its high mineral content that is critical for the development and maintenance of bones, teeth, muscle contraction as well as milk production. Farmers are advised to utilise early bloom and immature alfalfa as it consists of high levels of protein. Note that as alfalfa hay matures, protein levels tend to decline while its fibre content increases making it less palatable to cattle. Although this type of hay for cattle is highly beneficial, it often causes bloat in animals hence should be used with caution. In fact, some farmers practise co-cropping bloat safe legumes and wilt alfalfa prior to consumption so as to protect cattle from bloat. These methods have proven to be effective in controlling the risk of bloat, however, bloat safe grazing is not guaranteed.

Red Clover Hay

Red clover is among the highly productive types of hay that are relished by livestock, hence being widely used as cattle feed. It is among the most nutritious types of cattle feed. Red clover is a rich source of a variety of nutrients including calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C. For this reason, it is of great importance to the health of cattle. In fact, various agricultural research have indicated its medicinal value in cattle. Red clover aids in bone development as well as in milk production. It is therefore highly recommended to growing as well as lactating cows.  The upside of growing red lover is that it can tolerate poorly drained and slightly acidic soils. This makes it valuable to famers in semi-arid environments as cattle are provided with feed though out the dry season. Another benefit of this type of hay for cattle is that it contains a low fibre content and therefore is palatable. In fact, red clover may even be more digestible than alfalfa thereby providing a more energy dense forage to the diets of lactating dairy cows.

Timothy Hay

Timothy hay is also among the most popular types of hay for cattle world over. It is highly famed for its high fibre content that makes it highly palatable to cattle. Timothy hay has a relatively low moisture content therefore is ideal for storage. Furthermore, timothy hay plays a critical role in preventing metabolic disorders.  Hypocalcaemia, or milk fever, is a common problem that negatively impacts between 5 and 10% of every herd of cattle thereby making it difficult for cattle to absorb calcium. The low calcium and potassium content found in this type of hay for cattle helps to reduce potassium concentrations within the bloodstream thus being ideal for dairy herds. Timothy hay has also been proven to enhance the flavour of beef. According to agricultural research, timothy fed beef cows are typically low in fat, with tender muscle. Cattles that are fed timothy hay are highly suited for consumer tastes, which increases their market value. An important point to note is that timothy hay has very low protein levels and so should be provided with supplementary feed. It is therefore recommended to mix it with other hay such as alfalfa and red clover.

Bermuda Hay

Bermuda hay is among the most common types of hay for cattle. It is easily identifiable by its green/grey colouring and is commonly found in the tropical and subtropical areas. This type of hay has a moderate nutritional value and so is often used with a supplementary feed. Bermuda hay has a low protein and calcium value. For this reason, it is advisable to provide it in conjunction with alfalfa. Due to it moderate nutritional value, some farmers use it as feed for overweight cattle. The upside of providing this type of hay for cattle is that it is highly tolerable to varied weather conditions. It can be baled at more convenient times therefore offers nutrition for grazing cows and calves when they need it most. Despite its relatively low nutritional value in comparison to other types of hay for cattle, it is highly valuable to farmers in arid and semi-arid environments.

Conclusion

There are different types of hay for cattle and they differ in terms of nutritional value and palatability. Hay for cattle falls into different categories which include grass, legume, mixed (both grass and legume) as well as cereal grain straw. Some hay poses higher risks to animal health in comparison to others. As such, it is of the utmost importance for cattle farmers to possess adequate knowledge about different types of hay. This will enable farmers to provide livestock with a suitable feed thereby taking a step towards animal health maintenance and increased productivity.