Hay yields off? Don’t panic, there’s time to take action!

Chris Penrose, Extension Educator, Ag and Natural Resources, Morgan County

Some suggest hay yields are half of normal. Is that the result of late freezes, or more timely harvest this year?

I hope you are not having the hay season I am having. While the quality of my hay is good, my yields are extremely disappointing. With over half of my fields made, I am around 50% of a normal crop. The two late freezes killed back growing grass last month, and honestly, I am mowing hay earlier than most years. I am also doing it much faster with my youngest son not working this summer at the Wilmington College farm due to the virus and helping on the farm. Another thing I have noticed over the past few years is that some hay fields have less fescue and orchard grass, and more poor quality forages like cheat grass reducing quality and yields.

If it looks like hay is going to be short this year, here are a few thoughts for the short term and for the long term. First, is there hay you can make from some property not too far from where you live? Sometimes owners may let fields be made at a reasonable price if they are faced with having to pay someone to mow it for them just to maintain open space.

Will your fields benefit from fertilizer and lime? Applications made soon can provide a response this season providing more hay.

Do you have some unproductive cattle that can be marketed?

Have you ever considered planting some warm season annuals like millet, sorghum or sudangrass? They can provide a lot of tonnage until frost.

In the next month or two, you can plan for ways to extend the grazing season by stockpiling cool season grass. We know that adding nitrogen (I recommend 50# N/Acre) will increase yields.

Brassicas such as turnips planted in July can provide 10,000 pounds of dry matter in 90 days. Cereal rye and oats or a combination of small grains and brassicas are options as well.

If you have access to corn stalks this fall, that is a great option. If you have corn fields, I have seen success flying on small grains and/or brassicas in the late summer providing a great mixture of corn stalks and annuals to graze in the fall.

Finally, shelled corn can be fed this winter to stretch hay supplies if needed.

In the long term, consider improving fertility, then re-seeding fields with improved varieties of grasses and legumes if you have unimproved hay fields. It pays to use top quality seed, especially when you factor in the total cost to re-seed then how many years you should have the crop. You should have better yield and quality. You can seed in late summer (I recommend August) or in the spring. Late summer seedings typically have fewer weed problems, but if you have a lot of deer in you area, their grazing pressure can put severe stress on the crop during the late fall and winter.

The good news is that the remaining hayfields on my farm are in much better shape and with some fertilizer in the next week or two, we should have a good second cutting and eventually grow enough feed for the cattle we keep this winter. We are still in early June and if we figure out our best options now and take action, we will have less of a chance of a shortage of feed this winter.