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Hay Management Tips

- The most important single factor affecting hay quality is the stage of maturity at cutting. Young, vegetative forage is higher in protein and energy than older, flowering material. As forages mature, fiber increases while protein and digestibility decreases.

- Delaying hay harvest tends to maximize forage yield but at considerably lower forage quality. Cut with a mower –conditioner that splits or bruises the stems to promote faster drying. Stubble height should be left high enough to hold the windrow off the ground and facilitate air movement through it.

- To minimize leaf shatter, raking legume crops should be avoided once moisture content drops below 40%. Desiccants can be applied to legume crops (they are ineffective on grasses) when cut to reduce the time needed for curing and drying. They are more effective under good drying conditions than under poor drying conditions.

- Rapid dry-down,, baling, and proper storage reduces field losses that occur from plant respiration which continues during the initial phase of dry-down from cutting to about 40% moisture. This loss converts plant material into heat, water vapor and carbon dioxide.

- The key to keeping storage losses to a minimum is to bale at moisture levels between 15% and 18% to prevent heating and mold growth.

- Preservatives can be applied when baling to facilitate safe storage at higher moisture levels. Weathering refers to the degradation and loss of plant nutrients from bleaching by the sun and washing by rain. Carbohydrates and water-soluble vitamins and minerals are easily leached from dry hay.

- Large losses in quality and quantity result when hay is exposed to the weather. The amount of loss will vary depending on precipitation, storage site conditions and the quality of the bale. Losses are more significant in higher rainfall conditions than in drier environments.

- Large diameter bales have less volume per unit of surface area exposed. The external layer of weathered hay represents a substantial loss of yield and quality. A 2” layer of weathered material on a 4 X 4 bale represents 16% of the bale volume while the same 2” layer on a 6 X 5 bale represents 11% of the volume.

- High-density bales will tend to sag less - exposing less surface area to the ground and a good thatch cover on the bale surface helps shed precipitation. Large hard-core bales lose less value than smaller soft-core bales.

- As bale size and density increases - proper baling moisture is much more critical to prevent heating.

- Consider some form of cover for high quality forages, if the forage will be fed to high performance livestock or if it is to be sold.

- Large round bales typically have higher storage losses than rectangular bales – especially when stored outside without covers. Additional disadvantages with large round bales is the inability to efficiently utilize storage space and when transporting, to maximize trucker payloads.


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Photo Credit: Lee Gunderson

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