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Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 2

By   /  March 4, 2019  /  3 Comments

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This is Part 2 in Jim’s series. If you missed Part 1, here you go!

When you feed hay for fertilizer, we often think of it as a way to reduce the need for purchased fertilizer, especially Nitrogen (N). Have you thought about how much N you may actually be applying when you feed hay?

It may be more than you think.

Let’s Look at How N Moves From Fed Hay Back to the Soil

The amount of nitrogen in hay is directly tied to the protein content of the hay. Protein on average contains 16% N. Grass hay may have less protein than the livestock being fed require while legume hay generally has much more protein than required.

If the hay is just what the animal needs in terms of protein content, then about half of the N will be excreted in the feces and half in the urine.

Livestock will generally excrete 85 to 95% of the N consumed.

Fecal N content changes very little as dietary protein level increases.

N is slowly released from manure piles as they decompose. feces breaks down relatively quickly in warm, wet environments and very slowly in cool, dry environments.

Almost all excess N ingested by the animal when protein content of the feed exceeds the animal’s requirement is returned to the soil via urine.

Urinary N is a highly soluble & readily available N fertilizer. When managing hay feeding for targeted N application rate, urinary N is where we focus our attention.

This table shows how much urinary N is returned to the soil depending on the protein content of the hay.

When you decide how many bales of hay you will be feeding on an acre of pasture, this table can help you decide.

If you set a target amount of N to apply, you can determine how many bales per acre it will take to accomplish that application rate. You can see the number of bales to feed per acre will vary greatly depending on the quality of the hay being fed.

Do you have a nutrient management plan or are you missing a great opportunity and wasting resources?

Coming next week – Jim provides some background to help you figure out a plan to manage the nutrients from your hay feeding. If you have questions for Jim, do share them in the comments below!

Click here for Part 3.

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About the author

Jim Gerrish is the author of "Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming" and "Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing" and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO's to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.

3 Comments

  1. Curtis Kruer says:

    Hi Jim,

    What if you have pastures full of horses, instead of cows? Do the same calculations apply? I board horses in open irrigated pastures in SW Montana and have always wondered how much N goes back into the ground after a fall and winter of feeding. There are mixed opinions from locals about this.

    • Jim Gerrish says:

      Hi Curtis,
      Yes, the same basic relationship holds for horses as cows when it comes to retention & excretion of minerals.
      The big difference is in redistribution patterns. Horses do have a much stronger tendency to concentrate manure in particular areas.
      Shortening the time period horses are in a particular area will help with distribution.
      Jim

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