Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Haying management to produce high quality forage

Haying management to produce high quality forage
Kari Lewis

Loosely made bales, such as this one, will have more surface area
to absorb moisture, compared to a densely wrapped bale that better
sheds precipitation.  Photo by Kari Lewis
We’re not to the 4th of July yet, but the swathers seem to be rolling already!  Today, I wanted to visit a bit about management practices at haying that can affect the quality of your end product.  The main factors affecting hay quality include moisture content when hay is baled, forage species and stage of maturity at baling, and storage conditions.  

Today we’ll touch on when to cut hay, nitrate management, and equipment maintenance. For grass type hays, the greatest forage quality is achieved when the plant is in a vegetative state of growth.  Grass hay should be cut just as seedheads are beginning to emerge.  After this point, there will be very minimal increases in tonnage, but quality will decline rapidly.  Hay that tests greater than 10% crude protein is sufficient to meet a lactating beef cow’s protein requirement, however, low quality hay will require additional protein supplementation.  Low quality forage generally has very similar production costs to high quality forage, but is even more expensive to feed as it necessitates additional supplementation for livestock. 

Now is a good time to go through haying equipment to lube and
grease equipment.  Each piece of equipment should have a charged and
 working ABC fire extinguisher.  Photo by Kari Lewis
If you will be putting up cereal forages, such as oats, wheat, barley, triticale, etc., it is critical to have it tested for nitrates before swathing!  When a grain hay sample comes in to our office before it’s been swathed, we can do a nitrate quick test and let you know if the hay is safe to cut.  When a grain hay sample comes in after its been swathed and it tests high for nitrates, there is nothing that can be done at that point.  So, please, bring a sample into your local Extension office, approximately 20 stalks, cut at ground level that we can use to test for nitrate presence.  Nitrates are lowest in the afternoon, so that’s the best time of day to cut grain hay. 

As bales are stacked, make sure to record which
stacks came from which field, and number
of bales.  Photo by Kari Lewis.
When hay is baled, it should not exceed 18 to 22 percent moisture.  If the moisture content is greater than these levels, there are large amounts of dry matter loss, molding is likely to occur, and spontaneous combustion is possible. 

In terms of storage, dense bales will shed more precipitation, sag less, and have less surface area to absorb moisture, therefore storage losses will be lessened.  Net wrap also makes a tight, smooth surface that is more resistant to damage from weather, insects, and rodents.

Lastly, if you haven’t begun haying yet, now is a good time to make sure that equipment is greased, lubed, and in good working order.  Don’t forget to order extra filters, commonly used parts, etc. so that replacements will be ready when needed (which typically seems to occur on the weekend).  As you work on equipment, keep all shields and safety guards in place, and replace those shields immediately after maintenance is complete.  Those shields and guards are on there for a reason!  Finally, always be prepared for a fire.  Make sure there’s a class ABC fire extinguisher on all equipment, and that fire extinguishers are charged and in working order.

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