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Time to Harvest Hay

Posted by Teresa Steckler - Pasture

If the rain had not hampered many producers, much more hay would have already been harvested in southern Illinois but the next week's weather should be optimal to cut and bale hay. 

Producers know that quality goes down as hay matures, but they also know that yield goes up with hay maturity. In striving for more is better, producers often end up with a lot of hay that has very little feed value. Think of the last couple of years in southern Illinois; producers have been fighting the rains at the time when hay should have been harvested (also planting corn).  Currently, much of the fescue has already headed out thus it is no longer in the vegetative state (the most nutritious state). So remember the quality may not be as high as you might think. For example harvest data from Virginia over four years.

Date of Harvest        % Crude Protein        %TDN
May 15                                15.6                    69.1
June 1                                 12.7                    64.1
June 15                                 9.4                    58.4
July 1                                    7.3                     50.8
July 15                                  6.5                     46.3

Producers are encouraged to harvest first cutting hay based on the following guidelines:
  • Alfalfa: bud to 1/10 bloom.
  • Red clover: 1/4 to 1/2 bloom.
  • Timothy: late boot.
  • Tall fescue: boot stage.
  • Orchardgrass: blooms emerged.

If you are able to harvest hay the rest of the year at the appropriate time then use the less nutritious hay when the cows nutritional requirements are not high - early pregnancy and/or when the weather is not so severe. If you are unsure of the quality of your hay, then have it tested then you can supplement to the appropriate levels.  It is important to feed the livestock at the appropriate level of nutrition for their stage of gestation as well as not overfeed expensive nutritional components, especially during times of lower cattle prices.


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