Forage Focus: The quality/quantity of hay

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The last few issues have had information about making hay, and yes hay making season has already begun for some Ohio farmers this year. Timely harvest of forage is critical to maintain high quality feeds. The last few years, frequent rain events during much of the spring delayed beginning of hay harvest until the middle of June for many producers. Most varieties of orchardgrass had been headed out for three to four weeks before harvest even began. Many forage analyses I saw of first cutting hay made late June and early July of those years showed low protein content (7% or less) and high acid detergent fiber (ADF) and neutral detergent fiber (NDF). Hay of this quality can not meet the nutrient requirements of many, if any, classes of livestock without supplementation. Sometimes making hay of this quality can not be avoided, but often times it can.

Quite often I have seen producers who never make any first cutting hay until mid/late June, even when we had good hay making conditions. Making hay when the quality value is still high is a way to make money. Most often, feeding high quality hay means no supplementation is needed, other than minerals, to meet nutrient requirements for most of our livestock. By harvesting and feeding high quality forage, many problems that are hard to estimate a dollar value for may be avoided (e.g. loss of body condition, dystocia, lower milk production, and delayed returning to estrous).

Below are results of two studies conducted where forage samples were collected from mixed grass/legume hay fields which had been fertilized. One was from the Eastern Agricultural Research Station near Belle Valley, OH and the other taken from my farm near Woodsfield, OH. As samples were taken they were sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results are listed in table 1 and 2 below. As one would expect, quality values were highest while the forage was young and declined as it matured. Yield data also showed dry matter per acre of most samples increased as the forage matured. Looking at the results, by early to mid-June the quality of the forage quickly began to decline even though the quantity kept increasing.

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As you can see waiting until tonnage increases, so you can make a lot of hay per acre, may only mean you have a lot of low quality feed that does not meet your livestock's nutritional needs. To meet nutrient requirements of these animals you will have to feed a concentrate supplement or risk the problems we mentioned earlier.

So, if you haven't already made hay this year, get the equipment ready and be prepared for the next window of opportunity to make your highest quality hay. Each production year and each field of forage is different, but timely harvest of your hay (weather and field conditions permitting) provides higher quality feed for your livestock and increased production should be a result.

 Source: Ohio Beef Letter

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