Forages (pasture, hay and silage) constitute the most feed consumed by beef cattle. The most convenient approach in producing feed is to provide quality pastures during as much of the year as possible and permit animals to graze growing forage to the maximum. To provide a year-round feed supply, however, one must usually rely on stored feed when growth is inadequate to meet animal needs.
Hay is the most common source of stored feed used in most beef cattle operations. Nutrients provided in hay harvested at the proper stage of plant growth and undamaged by weather usually cost less to produce than those in other forms of feed, with the exception of pasture or silage.
The primary objective of any hay feeding program should be to provide ample quantities of high quality hay to meet, in so far as possible, the animal's needs. High quality hay is early cut, green, leafy, pleasant smelling and free of foreign material and toxic factors. Such hay when chemically analyzed will usually be high in protein and low in fiber content.
Lacefield, Garry D.; Evans, J. Kenneth; and Burns, Joe, "Southern Regional Beef Cow-Calf Handbook: Hay Feeding Systems" (1977). Agriculture and Natural Resources Publications. Paper 53.