Wheat for Hay

– Glen Arnold, OSU Extension Educator, Putnam County

Some farmers have asked about harvesting hail damaged wheat for a hay or haylage crop before planting the field to corn or soybeans. Here are some thoughts from Steve Boyles and Maurice Eastridge, Ohio State University Extension animal nutritionists.

Steve Boyles, Ohio State University Extension Beef Specialist: Wheat cut in the boot to very early head-emergence growth stage is suitable for calves or other livestock needing relatively high nutrient content feedstuffs. Hay yield can be increased by waiting until early milk stage of the grain. This wheat hay is lower in nutrients but is suitable for dry beef cows.

Many varieties of wheat are being bred to have rough awns for harvesting in areas where small grained must be swathed to dry prior to combining. Rough-awned varieties may cause soreness and irritation to the mouth, lips, gums, and lower surface of the tongue in cattle. A crop with rough awns should be ensiled rather than baled to minimize this occurrence. Harvesting at the late-boot stage rather than the dough stage reduces palatability problems caused by rough awns.

When harvesting small grains for hay in the late-boot stage, a crimper or crusher attachment will help speed the drying, but when harvesting in the milk or dough stages, these attachments increase kernel-shattering losses. If the crop is harvested in the dough stage, plants will not contain excess moisture, so crimping or crushing may not be beneficial.

Occasionally, nitrates accumulate in small-grain cereals. Nitrate accumulation in small grains is more of a concern with hay than with silage. Oat hay is more likely to have a high nitrate level than other small-grain cereal hays.

Maurice Eastridge, Ohio State University Extension Specialist, Animal Sciences:

1) The wheat harvested at boot stage will be high in quality (high protein, lower in NDF) but yield will be lower than early head to milk stage.

2) There is a risk for high nitrates, especially if the farmer used high application of N fertilizer. However, with the rather warm temperature prior to this week, there should be good growth and if harvested as silage, the nitrate concentration will drop during fermentation. So I think the risk is low if harvested as silage or balage. However, fermentation should be for at least 30 days before feeding. Harvesting as hay increases risk for nitrates and drying time is somewhat difficult due to hollow stem.

3) Other than nitrates, there should be no other risk of using this crop as feed. Just make sure crop is dried to proper DM of respective storage method for silage; else there will be an excessive amount of seepage.

Read the Label: Farmers thinking of using wheat for livestock feed should also note the labels on any fungicides, insecticides or herbicides applied prior to the hail damage. Harmony and Harmony Extra labels state “do not graze or feed forage or hay from treated areas to livestock”. Quilt has a 30-day restriction. Warrior has a 21-day restriction.