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Stored Forages: Hay, Greenfeed and Silage

Editor’s note: Relevant and up-to-date information that had been available on is gradually being added to (More information). The new Stored Forages page, which is previewed below, is one example. Further webpages will be added or updated on to include the valuable content from, ensuring that information remains freely available online. Completion is expected by Spring 2020.

Feed is the major input cost in cattle production, therefore producers must evaluate the cost of production for all stored forage systems.

The objective of harvesting any type of forage for storage is to preserve resources produced in the summer months in order to provide winter feed for livestock when grazing is not feasible or accessible. It is essential to harvest forage at the appropriate time, based upon nutritional quality, forage yield and climatic conditions, and then to store it properly to reduce losses.

Stage of plant maturity at cutting is the most important factor influencing hay quality. Young, vegetative forage is higher in protein and energy than older, flowering material. As forages mature, stem is increased in the total forage mass and the leaf-to-stem ratio is reduced. As a result, fibre increases while protein and digestibility decreases.

  • An important variable to consider when determining the best stage to cut hay is the nutritional needs of the animals to be fed. Age, physiological status and production targets determine nutritional requirements and feed quality must meet those needs.
  • Forage sampling and feed testing are essential tools for producers to evaluate quality parameters. While visual appraisal (i.e., forage colour, plant species, leaf/stem content) and knowledge of stage of maturity at cutting time are indicators of hay quality, they do not substitute for a feed test.
  • Legumes are normally higher in quality than grasses but within each there can be a wide range in quality. Mixtures of grasses and legumes, when managed properly provide for high quality hay production. Grasses can improve the drying rate of mixed stands compared to pure legume stands.

The size of a bale has an impact on the proportion of hay that is in the surface layer with larger bales having less exposed surface as a percentage of total feed in the bale. A 4” layer of weathered material on a six-foot diameter round bale represents 20% of the bale volume while the same 4” layer on a five-foot bale represents 25% of the volume. In high moisture conditions it is possible to have up to eight inches of spoiled hay on the outside of a round bale.

Ensiling is an effective method of preserving feed with a minimum of nutrient loss. If ensiled properly the feed nutritive value is only slightly less than the standing forage crop. Typically, lower field losses occur through ensiling than when haying.

Read more on the new stored forages page!

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