The goal of most producers is to get up enough hay to feed their livestock throughout the winter months. With last summers drought, we were all reminded about the importance of having enough hay, but we also need to keep in mind the quality of the hay that we are storing away.
The two main factors in putting up quality hay are soil fertility and plant maturity. In fields that we expect to harvest hay, especially quality hay, we must maintain good soil fertility. This can be accomplished fairly easily through a good fertilizer program. Collecting soil samples on a regular basis is the best way to manage soil fertility and not spend money on plant nutrients that you may not need. Keep in mind that as you remove a bale or roll of hay from the field, you are also removing some of the nutrients from the field.
Harvesting the forage at the optimum plant maturity is not usually quite as easy. In order to harvest high-quality hay, the forage should be cut in the vegetative stage of maturity. It is not always possible to cut the forage in this early stage of growth due to weather conditions and various other factors. The main thing to keep in mind is that the digestibility decreases, at a rapid rate, as the plant moves into the later stages of maturity.
Producing hay is one of the largest expenses in most cow/calf operations. We need to do all we can to make the most out of the dollars we spend in this area. It is almost impossible to produce high-quality hay without a good fertility program and harvesting it in the early stages of maturity. Some other factors that also impact hay quality include weed control, forage variety, weather and storage losses.
For more information about hay production, call the Walker County Extension office at (706) 638-2548.
Norman Edwards is coordinator of Walker County Extension Service. He can be reached by calling (706) 638-2548 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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