Storing Hay With a Plan

John F. Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator

We are currently in the midst of first-cutting hay season in Ohio. The weather has been reasonably cooperative to allow timely harvest of forages so far this season. Reports of yields to this point have been mixed with several individuals that I have spoken with indicating that tonnage may be down slightly from last year due to freezing temperatures late in April and below average rainfall in May. An earlier harvest season in 2015 may have also impacted yields but should also allow for improved quality.

Much has changed over the years as to how we bale and store hay on the farm. I can recall (not necessarily fond memories!) of nearly all of our hay being made in small, rectangular bales that were stored under roof. The harvest process has evolved over the years to the present where most hay today is harvested as large round or rectangular bales that can be stored in a variety of systems.

Earlier this month we covered the topic of hay storage in issue #934 of the Ohio BEEF Letter. In the video linked through that article, proper hay storage techniques that would minimize storage losses are covered. While it is never too soon to implement effective storage techniques, now is also the time to adjust your storage plans based on how the hay will be fed next winter.

When selecting the storage location for all cuttings of hay this season, think about how the hay will be fed next winter. Arrange the accessibility of the different types and cuttings of hay based on the various production groups and calving season of your herd. Obviously account for potential weather challenges and the probable location where animals will be fed next winter. Make sure to document location of the different types, cuttings, and quality of hay being stored. An evaluation of the quality of hay may include a visual appraisal but should absolutely include a forage analysis test through an accredited laboratory.

Why is a storage plan and documentation of your hay supply so important? The distribution of your hay supply to the various production groups in your herd can have a significant impact on the overall productivity of your herd. The most efficient use of your harvested forages is to match the quality of the forage to any given animal group based of the level of performance required at that stage of production. Of course, this philosophy applies to grazed forages as well.

Simply put, the highest quality hay should be earmarked for young, growing animals, females in the last trimester of pregnancy or females early in lactation. The lowest quality hay can be targeted for body condition score 5-6 females that are in the middle trimester of pregnancy as this would be the part of the reproductive cycle with the lowest nutritional demands. Lower quality forages can also be fed to animals carrying excess body condition or in situations where supplemental feeds are available.

I realize that it may be difficult to think about planning for the challenges of feeding hay next winter when we are currently experience beautiful springtime weather. However, a little planning now can provide a “sunnier” outlook for the economic bottom line for your operation.

EDITOR’s NOTE: Not positive which hay is the highest quality? Why not get it tested? This brief presentation tells how: