The benefits to removing old hay and manure 

As the season edges closer to spring, the time spent feeding winter hay will come to an end. But as spring arrives, the remnants of cold weather hay feeding litter pastures. Now is the time for producers to make plans to clean up those old hay feeding sites and use the cleared-out space for new forages.

Hay Site Management

When left unkempt through the spring and into the summer months, hay feeding sites from the previous winter may evolve into weedy messes. According to agronomy specialists, the win-ter hay feeding spots are some of the most fertile spots in the entire field because of the added manure. However, with no permanent grass at the old hay feeding site, weeds can take ad-vantage of the open ground and fertility and then establish a foothold. 

Clearing the areas of the manure and uneaten hay, provides insight for management strate-gies for next winter’s hay feeding season. “Farmers should use this review of their pasture damage to evaluate how to best feed hay in the future,” Tim Schnakenberg, field specialist in agronomy at the University of Missouri Extension, said. 

According to Schnakenberg, forcing cattle to clean up hay before adding more hay to bale rings, is something that can help overcome the problem of damaged pastures. In addition, producers should move the bale rings to a new location before feeding more hay. This strategy will ensure there are less problems in the spring. 

A similar practice should be followed when unrolling hay in a field. “It’s very important to limit the amount that is unrolled, so that there is no more than a day’s allocation of hay. Don’t add more hay to the field until all is cleaned up,” Schnakenberg explained. “We find that this makes a huge difference on improving strategies for keeping hay waste to a minimum.”

Problems at Hay Feeding Sites

When not properly managed, problems can manifest at winter hay feeding sites. If the bale rings are never or rarely moved, then some feeding areas may become so full of manure that there are mounds of it left behind. This management practice creates a significant concern for efficient hay feeding. Additionally, when the bale rings stay in the same area manure is not properly distributed around the field and damage can be excessive on the feeding areas.

Ways to Clean Up Sites

There are ways to clean up feeding areas and make them productive again, but in all cases, it can become labor intensive. According to agronomy specialists, in areas where excessive rotting hay is still there, there may be a need to burn those sites to expose the soil for forage growth again. 

Research indicates there are ways to utilize the hay feeding areas as ground for new forage. “Dr. Greg Halich with the University of Kentucky has been studying spaced bale feeding for years, using carefully planned bale ring spacing around fields,” Schnakenberg said. “In his research, he has found that the aftermath of a feeding area can turn into the most productive sites in the field the following year.”

Producers can take advantage of the bare soil and excessive fertility left behind by hand seeding the areas with forage seed in late winter before the weeds get a foothold. Forage specialists suggest some of the best forages for these sites include clovers, annual ryegrass and, in some cases, orchardgrass. 

Adding annual lespedeza and/or forage crabgrass will also benefit those sites in the summer months. “Compared to the standard fescue pasture in the surrounding are-as, these sites turn into cattle candy for cows when they first enter a paddock,” Schnakenberg explained. 


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