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New hay balancing tool available for ranchers

Progressive Cattleman Associate Editor Carrie Veselka Published on 14 June 2018
beef cows eating hay

The UF Hay Balancer was introduced by creator Nicolas DiLorenzo, beef specialist with the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, in a presentation at the University of Florida Northwest Florida Beef Conference in February.

The UF Hay Balancer is an Excel spreadsheet that can be used to calculate the most cost-effective way to supplement cattle feeding programs based around dry hay. What started out as a personal resource for DiLorenzo evolved over the course of several months to a more advanced calculating tool.

DiLorenzo says he receives several phone calls every year asking how to balance diets and eventually started putting together a spreadsheet for his personal reference. “It was a very crude version of what the Hay Balancer looks like today, and it was just different calculations and different formulas in Excel to get to the amount of energy and protein needed to balance the diet,” he says.

“Then I mentioned it to one of our extension agents, and he got excited about the idea of making it public, and I told him that I would have to clean it up and make it a lot more user-friendly, so then I started playing with Excel and learning how to do more with it.” DiLorenzo says it took him eight months of revision and tweaking to refine the Hay Balancer to what it currently includes. “It took me a while to learn some of the Excel tricks, and I know I’m not even scratching the surface of what Excel can do,” he says.

DiLorenzo’s focus when creating the spreadsheet was not only making it navigable for someone with minimal knowledge of Excel, but also making it possible for ranchers to enter their information in terms that they could understand and use. “The key was that it had to be simple enough,” he says.

After exploring some of the program and software options, he decided the tool needed to have input options that an average producer who may or may not have data on their herd would be able to use. “A lot of times, [ranchers] don’t necessarily know all of those numbers, like body condition score or average weight and things like that,” he says. “With this, they can even guess or estimate from the neighbors or past experience, or whatever they can do, and minimize the number of inputs they have to put in to get the answer that they want.”

DiLorenzo says the Hay Balancer requires a hay test in order for it to work properly. “One of our extension goals has been to push to increase the amount of hay that is tested so that we know what we have to begin with,” he says. “There are a couple tools like this, but they all require taking a sample to submit for analysis because that is where all the calculations start.”

He says that right now, the Hay Balancer is geared toward forages used in the southeastern U.S., but it would only take a few adjustments to adapt it for use across the country. “The one thing that is ready to adapt is that everyone can put in their own feed resources. That is pretty much customized to each producer, so they can add their own feed, create a new feed or modify the nutrition profile of an existing one. It is something they can modify very easily, so a producer in the Midwest that is using a unique byproduct can enter in a nutritional profile of the byproduct and play with that,” he says. “The only thing at this point that will be different is the way intake is calculated because it is based on our type of forages. It would only take a small modification to make it widely adaptable to the rest of the country. All the producer would have to do is know what that intake of hay per day for those cows would be.”

In the months since he released the UF Hay Balancer, feedback and responses to the new tool have been positive. He has a network of producers and extension people who are continuously giving him feedback. “This is the very first version of the program; I call it 1.0,” he says. “We’re already thinking about including some modifications to make it more adapted to the entire U.S. I had a very positive response from producers, and I think it’s simple enough that producers can use it with minimal revision.” He eventually wants to create a mobile app for his hay tool. “It has to be very user-friendly with a limited number of entries to get the final number needed.”

DiLorenzo’s contact information is included in the balancing sheet so producers can contact him with questions. Download the UF Hay Balancer and get step-by-step instructions for use by clicking here.  end mark

Carrie Veselka
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PHOTO: The UF Hay Balancer tool helps calculate the most cost-effective way to supplement a dry hay-based diet. Photo by Lynn Jaynes.