Ozarks Farm & Neighbor recently participated in the 2012 Regional Hay School hosted by the Greene County University of Missouri Extension.
This will be the first in a series of eight designated to share information gathered during the hay school. The series will start with a summary of Tim Schnakenberg’s presentation on Forages and Hay Quality in southwest Missouri.
Schnakenberg began by recognizing the hay dilemma here in Missouri and presented several strategies for dealing with this dilemma. This article will address some of his strategies.
By harvesting in April (or an earlier than normal harvest) as soon as the weather cooperates you may get a lower yield, but you will certainly get a higher quality first cutting and by default will get an improved second cutting.
For those interested specifically in hay production, Schnakenberg presented alternatives to add to your hay production such as native warm-season grasses: Switchgrass, Big Bluestem, Bermudagrass, Red River Crabgrass and Caucasian Bluestem. These will help specifically in your second cutting for July to August.
While Fescue is the majority of the hay produced here in Missouri, it is durable and reliable but there continues to be concerns about Fescue toxicity. However, recent tests show that the levels drop significantly even one month after clipping which is why Fescue continues to be such a favorite. Schnakenberg mentioned that novel Fescues are excellent choices, as well, yet contain no endophytes, which are responsible for the toxicity problems.
Orchardgrass is a good early spring producer with a quick, high quality regrowth but little fall growth, but it can be susceptible to drought and disease. It also has a relatively short life span. It is a good compliment for Alfalfa. Bromegrass is high quality forage that is resistant to drought. It has slow regrowth after haying and doesn’t tolerate abuse. It is, however, a bit difficult to establish. Perennial Ryegrass is a short-lived perennial. It is excellent quality, early spring growth, but does suffer from heat, cold and drought. Winter annuals to think about include Wheat, Triticale, Cereal Rye, Annual Ryegrass or Oats.
Schnakenberg talked extensively about Alfalfa or Alfalfa grass explaining that it is the best protein source for livestock. It does need high fertility and management but is best for hay.
Schnakenberg said there are three factors to quality hay management: 1. Stage of Growth, 2. Plant Species and 3. Conditions at Harvest. Knowing when to cut at the appropriate time for each crop to achieve the highest quality of hay is important. Knowing the safe baling moisture recommendations is also critical to achieve the best cured hay. Some of these recommendations may surprise you: small squares at 20 percent moisture; mid-size and large squares at 16 percent moisture; and round bales at 18 percent moisture. Having the correct moisture not only saves from mold and mildew, but also prevents overheating and potential fire hazards.
Schnakenberg discussed that for the best quality hay, time of day was also important for cutting. It was not morning but afternoons, with 4 o’clock being the peak time followed by 7 o’clock because the sugars rise within the stalk resulting in the best quality.


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