Producing hay is an excellent way to use the fields you have to feed your livestock in the months when growing pasture is scarce. But the process of growing and storing hay is more than just a couple of steps. Here’s a quick overview of what it takes to make a hay crop.
The first part of the hay production process is growing the forage. Many different varieties can be grown, but they fall into three primary categories: grasses, legumes and grass-legume mixes. Once you’ve selected the right varieties for your production goals, use a soil test to determine the fertilizer needs of your specific crop and fields to ensure your highest yield potential is reached.
Related: Biostimulants such as Generate® encourage forage yield and quality. Learn more about Generate and its impact on hay quality and quantity.
Knowing when to cut hay depends on your variety and production goals. In some regions, hay producers may get three to four cuttings of hay, depending on the variety grown. However, the subsequent cuttings are generally of higher quality, so in some instances, it may be better to make the first cutting early to encourage increased growth for second and third cuttings.
Sickle mowers, haybines and rotary mowers are all potential tools for cutting hay, and each has an advantage depending on crop. Alfalfa benefits from crimping the stem to help create windrows with greater airflow, while thicker stemmed grasses may benefit from a flail that helps to soften the crop for easier feeding. A sickle mower requires the least amount of horse power, however it doesn’t process the stem at all. A rule of thumb is that the wider the swath laid out by the mower, the greater the hay surface area exposed to drying.
Once hay has been mowed, it probably needs additional turning to encourage airflow and curing. Some producers ted immediately after cutting, while some suggest three to four hours later for the greatest efficacy. While some hay may need a second tedding to fully dry, leafier hays such as alfalfa can be damaged with excessive tedding, leading to leaf and nutrient loss. Ideally tedding can be avoided, as it does create additional passes across the field. The benefit is that it can reduce drying time, and if that is the difference in beating the rain or not, then the work is worth it.
Raking fluffs the hay one last time, encouraging drying and moving it into a windrow for the baler. Some hay producers may make additional raking passes to continue to dry the hay, especially when heavy dew comes on and leaves the bottom of the windrow higher in moisture. Ideally, producers would rake after the dew is off the hay and wait another few hours before baling.
5. Baling and Storing
Dry hay needs to reach roughly 14%-18% percent moisture before baling. Once you’ve decided if you want round bales— which are easier to build and feed—or square bales— which are easier to transport and store— you can determine your storing system. Hay stored inside will hold onto more of its quality and will last longer, so it’s good to keep your highest quality hay inside when possible. In contrast, uncovered hay stored outside will often lose dry matter, palatability and nutrient value from being in the elements. Wrapped hay sits in between, with less dry matter loss than unwrapped hay but more spoilage than hay stored indoors.
How to Get There Faster
As you can see throughout this process, getting hay preserved takes time and dry weather. Being able to bale hay at higher moistures can take some of the stress, time and labor out of the process. And that means having the right hay preservative.
Anchor™ for Hay is a dry granular product designed to help hay producers preserve higher moisture hay without the risk of spoilage. Anchor for Hay uses an organic acid to reduce pH levels rapidly, and the patented Microbial Catalyst® creates additional preserving acid by working with beneficial bacteria naturally found in hay. This process further lowers pH levels and targets higher moisture areas deep inside the bale for greater preservation.