One of the criticisms of using a nurse crop, especially if peas are used in the mix, is the difficulty in getting the forage dry enough to chop. It is critically important to lay the swath as wide as possible. This may require removing the discharge deflectors in order to get the swath as wide as the conditioner rolls. It is preferable to have the swath as wide as possible, even if you have to drive on the swath to mow. The drying rate is so improved that chopping time may be reduced by 25 to 50%. This same technique is also being used for alfalfa harvest and it is allowing harvest of 60 to 65% moisture haylage within 12 hours of cutting.
If a hay field yields poorly at first cutting, another decision has to be made: Is it worth keeping the rest of the year? One alternative would be to plant a BMR-6 type of sorghum-sudan grass. Sorghum-sudan grass is a warm season grass much like corn. It grows best in warm soil, warm temperature, long days and adequate rain. It does need nitrogen and is a good crop in a nutrient management plan. We do not recommend sowing sorghum-sudan grass in soil temperature below 60Â°F because it will not germinate. I recommend sowing 25 to 30 pounds per acre using a grain drill and planted at a depth of 1 to 1.5 inches. However, with good growing conditions, dry matter yields can exceed 5 to 6 tons dry matter per acre with a two cut system. I recommend cutting before the plant heads out, much like we do for small grain forage, at about 3 to 4 feet tall. Again, sorghum-sudan is a lush plant that needs to be conditioned and laid out in as wide a swath as possible and merged for chopping.
Have a safe spring and let's hope for plenty of rain this growing season at all the right time.
-Jim Paulson, Dairy Extension Educator, University of Minnesota