– Christine Gelley, Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, Noble County OSU Extension
Hay season is officially underway!
Dry conditions are expected for the next couple weeks in our area. Haymakers, take advantage of this extended window of opportunity for harvest! After first cutting, consider applying some fertilizer to give grass a good boost for second cutting. Nitrogen in the form of urea will require at least a half inch of rainfall within four days to become active in the soil and reduce the risk of nitrogen volatilization. So, wait for rain to be in the forecast before you apply urea. Also, watch for problematic weeds that tend to show up around this time and cause issues for second cutting.
Making hay in May and early June is worthy of celebration because the most influential factor on forage quality is plant maturity. As grasses and legumes emerge from the soil in springtime, energy is allocated to leaf production. This is the vegetative stage of growth. The leaves are the most nutritious part of forage crops for livestock to consume either by grazing or as stored feed. It is ideal to harvest forages before they bloom. In legumes, the ideal stage for harvest is “early bud” and for grasses the ideal stage is “early boot”. Both stages describe the time in which the balance between nutritional value and yield is maximized before the flower fully emerges.
As temperatures heat up and time passes, plants progress from the vegetative phase to the reproductive phase of growth. In this window of time, the plants are allocating energy to the production of a flower. After flowering, energy is allocated to seed fill. While the focus is shifted to reproduction, leaves and stems become less nutritious and accumulate fiber. The increase of fiber in the stems and leaves helps support the flower and seed head as the plants become heavier.
As fiber increases, the forage becomes more difficult for animals to fully digest. Animals eat less because it takes longer for food to pass through their digestive tract. The greater the amount of fiber in the forage, the lower the nutritional value for livestock, thus the more they must eat to maintain weight. When the rate of consumption cannot adequately supply nutrients to the animal, weight gain stalls and production ability of the animal decreases.
In simple terms, if the weather allows, harvest should be accomplished before grasses and legumes begin producing seed. Having good weather now gives the hay maker the opportunity to achieve a timely first harvest and improves the odds of getting good results in subsequent cuttings in the same hay season.
Please be safe out in the field and avoid rushing through tasks. It looks like we will have plenty of time for hay to dry down. Take the gift of dry conditions to give yourself time to maintain your machinery, your stamina, and your focus.
Looking forward, save the date for the return of Southeastern Ohio Hay Day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, July 14, 2023 at the Eastern Agricultural Research Station! More details about Hay Day will be shared soon.
Best wishes to all for a safe and happy summer!
EDITOR’s NOTE: In case you missed it last week, for more detail about the trade off between forage quality and quantity and how forages are utilized by the ruminant system, see this 7 minute video from our colleagues at Penn State.