Summer in the Ozarks means haying season – round bales, square bales, silage, all are common sights to see in the summertime.
Haying is a complex procedure that involves taking many, many factors into account – the type of grass, the machinery, the size of the hay crew and of course, the weather. The heavy summer rains in 2015 (the second wettest summer on record) made haying a hard task to complete. Farmers persevered, as always, but how exactly did the excess moisture affect the quality and quantity of this year’s hay?
Timing is critical when baling hay, and farmers typically only have a small window of time to accomplish the task. “This was not a text book year for haymaking. The normal two week window in early May deteriorated rapidly into intermittent two day opportunities with high dew points. Most who knocked their hay down in May got it heavily rained on or never got it sufficiently dry,” said David Ballou of Ballou Saler Farm in Ozark, Christian County, Mo.
Since the steady rains made hitting the opportune windows a real challenge, most folks were behind on getting their hay cut, so by the time the sun appeared, the grass was well advanced in maturity. “Farmers finally put up a lot of hay but the quality will be below average due to it being harvested in an advanced stage of maturity,” said Eldon Cole, Livestock Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension.
“Late-cut forage will have high percentages of fiber which results in low total digestible nutrient (TDN) values. Protein levels will be affected, thus, these two effects will require farmers to purchase more supplement if they expect to have normal performance from their cattle,” Cole said.
Ballou noted that many Ozarks farmers held off cutting hay until late June.
“Looking for that crucial three day window of drying weather,” he said. “Many or most benefited with abundant dry hay from the undergrowth since the seed heads had long since matured.”
Forage tests are highly recommended for this year’s hay to determine what it may or may not be lacking nutrient-wise. Knowing what your herd needs is essential for proper supplementation and keeping up performance levels.
“Those who don’t test will, in all likelihood, either buy supplements they don’t need or not buy something their cattle need to perform properly. Testing forages just makes good sense when you have an unusual year,” Eldon Cole said. These tests can be performed through your local extension office.
Additional late cuttings of hay were a pleasant surprise for many farmers this year. Cole noted that some of the high performing grass species in these unusual late cuttings were Crabgrass and Lespedeza. Some folks approached the 2015 haying season with some new technology; big round baleage was a technique that many farmers implemented. If baleage is properly harvested, it can be a higher quality storable forage. If not properly wrapped, however, it can become damp, moldy and unsuitable to feed livestock. “Since many are using haylage for the first time, I encourage forage testing to see what you really have,” Eldon Cole suggested.
This year was certainly an unusual one for haying in the Ozarks. Proper storage of hay combined with forage testing and livestock supplementation if necessary can help you make your hard earned hay harvest go farther as the cooler seasons approach.