Lab analysis isn't available to back this up, but the hay I would have brought home out of more than 50 samples exhibited at the Morgan County Fair last week was third-cutting alfalfa from 2012. That makes a statement about storing hay properly, and also about the difficulty of making hay so far this year.
This sample still had a pleasing odor – sometimes a problem with hay that has been stored a while, especially if it was baled damp at all. Being third cutting and cut before the hay was too mature, it was packed full of leaves. Leaves are where the protein is, notes Chris Parker, Morgan County Extension ag educator.
That's not to say there weren't some good hay samples that arrived and that were baled earlier this year. The problem with the alfalfa and even some mixed hay samples was that there was considerable discoloration, even if they had plenty of leaves inside. First cuttings tended to have bigger stems, which added more fiber.
The discoloration may have been caused by the hay actually getting wet before baling, or because of high humidity and dews while it was curing. Parker notes that while last year was terrible for crops and hay quantity, it was good for hay quality. The lack of rain and low humidity made it easy to cut and cure.
This year has been the opposite, with hay growers looking for two- to three-day good weather windows to make hay. As a result the other problem, especially with grass hay, was forage that was cut late when the grass was very mature. Not only did it lose some of its green color through the curing process, it also was mature, sometimes with old seed heads and large stems. That hay will still feed certain animals, like beef cattle, but won't be suited for uses where animals need lots of energy form their forage.