The Great 2019 Hay Debate . . . Quality or Quantity?

Stan Smith, OSU Extension PA, Fairfield County

If there was ever a year to focus on hay quality over quantity, weather permitting, this has to be it! Most of the reasons should be obvious. Perhaps a few are less so. However, with some aggressive planning and a little cooperation from Mother Nature, perhaps we can have both quality and quantity this year. Following are some points to consider.

Generally speaking, we’re out of quality hay in Ohio. The condition of our cows confirms it, the prices of hay at auction markets confirm it, and laboratory forage analysis confirms it. Not only was 2018 a challenging year for forage harvest, but we started that year with less inventory. Last spring in their hay stocks report, USDA NASS reported hay inventory on Ohio farms on May 1, 2018 was down 33% from that same time in 2017.

As we’re now nearing the end of April, cows need feed and to add insult to injury, forages have been slow to get started this spring. It’s safe to assume first cutting hay will likely be short due to a late spring start of growth. Regardless, hay needs to come off in a timely fashion this year.

The first reason is quality. Regardless how tall it gets, the maturity and quality clock is ticking.

We need tonnage to replenish inventory. Getting it off early should result in a more aggressive regrowth, and hopefully the opportunity to harvest an extra cutting in 2019.

Lactating cows need high quality feed now if there’s any hope of getting them bred back in a timely fashion this year. If grazing conditions are less than ideal this spring, careful consideration must be given to whether there’s benefit to pulling cows back off grass after a quick first pass (when soil conditions have permitted!) and feeding some early made, high quality hay and perhaps even supplementing it with some additional energy and/or protein.

An early made first cutting not only guarantees quality that was lacking in our 2018 forages, but also allows the opportunity for an extra cutting in 2019. Another opportunity would be the ability to graze the regrowth earlier in the season, thus allowing pastures that were stressed late into fall and throughout winter and early spring a chance to rest.

Frankly, the great hay debate of quality versus quantity is not debate at all. We need both in 2019!

The three short videos that follow offer several suggestions and alternatives that will improve the odds of harvesting high quality hay.