Hay season is right around the corner. In fact, some would argue it is already here according to Tim Schnakenberg, agronomy specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
"Clearly it's time to harvest winter annuals like rye, triticale and wheat for hay or baleage. Seedheads are mostly up or coming up for all of these crops by now," said Schnakenberg.
The quality of these annuals can be outstanding when in the boot or early head stage. But only a week or 10 days later, the quality will drop quickly. That means it is time for harvest according to Schnakenberg.
Here is an example hay test of a wheat hay harvest that demonstrates the quality of this forage when harvested in the early heading stage: Crude Protein - 10%; Acid Detergent Fiber - 33%; Neutral Detergent Fiber - 57%; Total Digestible Nutrients - 61%; Relative Feed Value - 104.
"The protein is not outstanding but these numbers would have been even greater if cut in the boot stage. The TDN was outstanding telling us that the energy value for this crop was superior to the typical energy value of most late May or June cut fescue that most people are feeding," said Schnakenberg.
Fescue, orchardgrass, clover and alflalfa are also right around the corner for needing harvested.
"Be sure to get your machinery greased and ready to go because the windows of opportunity are very short in April and May and you need to be ready to roll when there is a break in the clouds," said Schnakenberg..
There is always a risk of rain on hay but sometimes the risks are worth it in order to get a quality first cutting, followed by a quality second cutting.
According to Schnakenberg, if a person takes advantage of the early windows to harvest hay or baleage, they might find the second cutting will be ready when most people are only thinking about harvesting their first cutting.
"You will be surprised at what the hay test will show for fescue hay harvested around May 1. Few, if any supplementation will be needed for these two cuttings of hay," said Schnakenberg.
More producers are finding that baleage or round bale silage is the answer for getting the first cutting harvested on time. Hay can be harvested in 24 hours, versus 4-5 days with conventional methods early season.
For more information, contact any of these MU Extension agronomy specialists in southwest Missouri: Tim Schnakenberg in Stone County, (417) 357-6812; Jill Scheidt in Barton County, (417) 682-3579 and Sarah Kenyon in Howell County, (417) 256-2391. Two agronomy graduate students are also available: Ben Polley in Douglas County at (417) 683-4409 and Will Knuckles in Taney County at (417) 546-4431.