Put Off Fall Haymaking

Instead of making fall hay, extension specialist recommends stockpiling grass for strip grazing in winter.

Published on: Aug 29, 2013

More hay than usual was cut in July across Missouri. That is not a good sign according to Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist.

Rain-delayed haymaking leads to poor-quality feed for livestock next winter. Supplemental feed will be needed to make balanced rations. A hay test makes the first step in learning how much supplement will be needed.

However, the regrowth has a chance to make higher-quality feed. Unfortunately, cool-season grasses go into summer slump, growing little in July and August. Regrowth may not come until fall rains return. Applying nitrogen fertilizer in mid- to late August can boost yield and quality of fall growth.

Contrary to some producers beliefs, mature standing grass leaves rot and dry, instead of gaining quality later in the season.
Contrary to some producers' beliefs, mature standing grass leaves rot and dry, instead of gaining quality later in the season.

Rather than making fall hay, Kallenbach recommends stockpiling fall grass growth for strip grazing. Stockpiled pastures can be grazed well into winter.

A hazard in over-mature hay

One extension specialist reported that producers who didn't cut hay in the spring want to delay cutting hay until fall. They believe the forage will gain nutrients from regrowth. Don't do that. Over time, mature standing grass leaves rot and dry rather than gain quality.

There's an extra hazard in that over-mature hay. Ergot alkaloids may be contained in the seed heads. That further lowers quality. Start with a clean field to allow better-quality forage to grow

Last year's drought allowed making higher-quality hay than this year. The spring of 2012 was wet enough to grow hay. Then it was dry enough that hay could be harvested without rain damage.

For best quality, hay should be harvested in May before plants set seed. When seed heads fill, sugars and proteins move from leaves into the seeds. High fiber remains instead of nutrients needed for high-quality hay. However, this May did not give farmers many rain-free days to cut, cure and bale hay. Rainfall extended into June, further lowering odds for making good hay.

Testing hay now to pinpoint actual hay nutrition will aid in making balanced rations for winter feeding.

Source: Robert Kallenbach, MU Extension State Forage Specialist