"This is the primary natural feed source for cattle. Their digestive systems have evolved to handle fibrous feeds. Feeding them grain is an anomaly, really," said Chuck West, a forage specialist and University of Arkansas professor in the crop soil and environmental sciences division, "so we are trying to get back to maximizing forage."
Some cattle producers haven't gotten the message that forage-based management concentrates on maximizing food production for suitable, intensive livestock farming.
Overcoming negative stigmas associated with Bermuda grass hay has been challenging, Robert Seay, University of Arkansas Benton County Extension Agent said, because many believe that it is a low-quality hay. "I'm a bad critic myself," Seay said, "but we've 10 years of data to support that our average TDN, or total digestible nutrients, which is an energy value scale, in hay has been 66 percent. To compare, corn runs about 89 percent. Basically, Bermuda grass hay is 75 percent the value of corn just on the energy content."
Information like that garners a second look by hay producers and buyers alike who continue to question whether Bermuda grass hay can satisfy winter nutrient requirements. The answer is a strong yes, Seay said. "You can't afford to grow hay on today's input prices of fuel, fertilizer and other expenses tied to operating farm equipment," Seay said. "Part of the agriculture scene right now is people getting out of the business because they can't afford what they are doing."
Future efforts to improve and to demonstrate high-quality forage outcomes is to convince cattle producers that all — large and small, full and part time — can utilize Bermuda grass and improve efficiency on the farm, West said. Small improvements made over the years, concentrated on the basics of providing proper fertilizer nutrient, selecting proper grass varieties and harvesting at the correct stage of growth will always help the farmer be more efficient and more profitable, he said.
Well-managed, high-producing high-quality Bermuda grass hay can be profitable even at today's high prices of nitrogen, West said. "There's not a lot of high tech practices involved," he noted.
The key to modern grassland farming is to have the soil tested at least every other year. Then, fertilize and apply lime according to those soil-test recommendations, West said. While spring weed control is important, preventers should be applied on an as-needed basis during the good growing conditions of spring and early summer, but save those fertilizer dollars during dry periods, normally mid-July tomid-September.