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Getting a Head Start on the New Year

January 3, 2014

By: Thomas Cobb, Livestock & Dairy Extension Agent, North Carolina Cooperative Extension

As the heart of winter approaches, most producers have brought the equipment into the shop and are working on maintenance and repair. Already, most are busy preparing for spring and getting ready for, hopefully, what will be a very productive growing season. So what are some things that we should be thinking about to help make ourselves more productive and prepared for the upcoming year?


Soil is the lifeline of all agricultural crops. Whether you raise corn, soybeans, hay, or a variety of different crops, making sure that your soil nutrients are adequate is extremely important. Taking a soil test this will give you the management tools that can help you accurately measure the nutrients particular to your situation. 


Feeding hay is something that has become more of an art throughout the years. There are several things to consider when deciding hay feeding situations. What are the nutrient requirements for the animals? Part of livestock management is making sure that the feed available is meeting the nutrient requirements for the goal that we want those particular animals to accomplish.

So, the question is: How does hay fit into that feeding management? For example, a brood cow is going to be mostly consuming a forage diet. However, the nutrient requirements can vary depending on the situation. Is she nursing? What trimester of pregnancy is she in?

All of these factors can change what her requirements are. So, our hay needs to be meeting those requirements. Otherwise, other supplements may have to be used. However, an animal that is being supplemented with something like a grain or silage ration, the nutrient requirements in the hay that they are fed may not have to be as high, due to the supplementation.

Therefore, to accurately meet the requirement, forage analysis needs to be done so it can be determined what the nutrient value of the hay is. Where should hay be fed? Where hay is fed is a management decision that should be made on what best suits the individual. There are different options:

  1. Feeding hay in round bale feeders in a lot that has been designated as a sacrifice area.Sacrifice areas tend to be designated areas that have poor soil fertility and forage production. Some concerns with this could be situations during spring that can lead to hoof and leg problems and concentrated animals that can spread respiratory diseases more easily.
  2. Feeding hay in round bale feeders on pasture. This can be effective as long as it is properly managed. If feeders are not moved often enough, the concentration of animals can damage pasture. The feeders should be moved often and be placed in areas that have adequate ground cover and are not wet and saturated.


This time of year, preparation for crops is making sure that the equipment is serviced and ready for the upcoming season. This is a good time to calibrate sprayers, clean the combines, grease those fittings that might have gotten neglected during the rush of harvest, clean the filters, change the oil, and do all of the routine maintenance that keeps things running as smoothly as possible.

Also, this is a good time to start looking at the calendar. Go ahead and evaluate the varieties that you are going to use, and see what the recommended planting dates are. Mark that on your calendar. Of course, everyone knows that Mother Nature may not have the same idea, and those dates are probably going to change. But, it will help to keep things organized, so that when it is time to get to work, things will be ready and prepared.

This is also a good time to look at past rotations and think about the future. Crop rotation is vital to management of weeds and pests. So, look at those last harvest records, and see what has been planted and what may need to be switched. If a field has been in corn for two years, you may need to start thinking about a legume to help fixate some nitrogen back into that soil. Sometimes, the simple things are the ones that are forgotten.

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