Typically, every year somewhere in the Golden Triangle there are grain fields that receive hail damage and questions arise related to haying those hailed out fields. Here are a few considerations related to haying a grain field that received hail damage.
· Stage of the grain – For best hay quality, haying should occur between the heading and soft dough stages. For wheat hay cut early, before the head emerged, protein content may be 11 to 12%. However, if it’s headed out, crude protein may be 10% or less. If the grain has headed out and there are beards, that can also present concerns when feeding the hay to livestock as the beards can cause irritation of the gums. A producer who has a processor and can chop up bearded grain hay is likely in a better position to manage feeding it.
· Nitrates – When plants are stressed due to hail, drought, etc., they tend to accumulate nitrates. Grains, such as oats, barley, and wheat are crops that we tend to be ones we are especially concerned with. A crop that was originally intended for grain production may have received a greater amount of nitrogen fertilizer than a typical hay crop would, so nitrate tends to be greater already due to that. Always make sure to bring 15 – 20 stalks randomly collected from the field in for a nitrate test at your local Extension Office before beginning to cut grain hay. Grain hay should always be cut in the afternoon to lower nitrate risk as well.
· Pricing - In terms of how to price hailed out forage as hay, I strongly recommend once the hay is baled to use a hay probe and sample at least 10% of the bales to get a nice, random hay sample for nutritive testing. Once a lab completes a forage nutritive analysis and crude protein, energy, and nitrate values are known, the hay can be priced based off of its quality. There is typically not a lot of data available on the price of hailed out grain hay, but by knowing its quality it can be priced similar to what hay of similar quality would be. If the grain hay has protein and energy value to CRP hay or straw, that provides a good starting point for a price.