Press "Enter" to skip to content

Time to Make Your Winter Feed Plan

Written by Matt Poore, Animal Science Departmental Extension Leader, NCSU
Updated by Becky Spearman, Bladen County Livestock Extension Agent

Hurricane Florence flooding had many impacts on agriculture and the loss of pasture and hay will impact us through this winter.  Given that winter feed was lost, there will be the need to buy hay.  It is important for you to prepare for the winter by making sure you have the hay and pasture you need to get to spring.

Start by deciding how many days you will need to feed hay.  100 days will be common for many producers.  Now you can estimate your hay needs.  Each lactating cow will need about 3% of its body weight per day of hay (small cows need 33 pounds of hay).  Knowing how much your cows weigh is critical to calculate an accurate feed budget.  If you have other livestock, figure their hay needs at 4% of body weight for sheep or goats and 2% of bodyweight for horses.

Next inventory your hay – count bales and estimate bale weight.  Using a scale is the only accurate way of estimating weight.  Keep in mind that round bales of hay rarely weigh as much as you think they do.  Hay that was flooded (sat in 12” plus water for more than 24 hours) is a complete loss. Hay that was stored outside and exposed to a lot of rain will in most cases not be a total loss. Usually grazed forages will meet the needs of a lactating beef cow.  Hay harvested late or under poor drying conditions usually do not meet the requirements.  A mature cow needs about 60% TDN (energy) and 11% protein.  If you don’t regularly test your hay, I strongly recommend you start this year.  Extension Livestock agents can help you.

If you are short of hay, plan to buy hay or other feed sources and plan before cold weather arrives.  The Hay Alert website ( is available to help farmers secure winter hay supplies.   Another option may to consider selling off some cattle.  Cow prices are a little depressed right now, but it may allow you to use funds to build your hay supply.

For a more in-depth article, please go to

Becky Spearman, Livestock Extension Agent in Bladen County, can help you determine how much hay is needed for your farm and can develop a ration (mix of feed ingredients) to make sure your animal nutritional needs are met.  There will be a meeting on planning your Winter Feeding Program on Tuesday, November 20th, at 7 p.m. at 450 Smith Circle Drive in Elizabethtown.  Topics include  estimating livestock and horse hay needs, how to meet those needs and how to plan to reestablish pasture next year.  Please RSVP by November 19th, by calling the office at 910-862-4591 or email  For more information about anything in this article or any livestock, horse or forage questions, please contact Becky. For accommodations for persons with disabilities, call the office at 910-862-4591 or email seven days before the meeting.

Mission News Theme by Compete Themes.