Plentiful rainfall that gave way to warm sunshine during the weeks leading up to Indiana's second and possibly third forage-cutting should lead to high yields despite a low-quality first cutting, a Purdue Extension forage specialist says.
Much of the state's first hay cutting did not happen until the third week of June – much later than the typical mid-May harvest – because of frequent rain that prevented harvest and allowed it to mature past ideal quality. But farmers are now harvesting the second cutting, and warm temperatures and lots of sunshine should benefit the crop.
"It's an ongoing understanding that the old saying, 'When the sun shines, you ought to be making hay,' is very, very true," Keith Johnson said. "Because if you miss out on the opportunity for an extra half day or day of sunshine, it could be that a weather front pushes through before the cut crop is baled because of higher than ideal moisture and, as a result of that, the crop sustains possible severe weather damage."
Standing forage crops hold about 75 percent moisture that must be reduced to 20 percent by in-field curing before it can be harvested. Hay baled at a higher percentage of moisture without a preservative is at risk of molding or spontaneous combustion.
Alfalfa fields are ideally harvested monthly, with four to five cuttings possible in a season. Grass-dominant hay is harvested every 40-45 days, allowing about three harvests. And, as Johnson pointed out, a poor first cutting is not an indicator of a poor hay season. Crop quality can vary between fields and cuttings.
"One of the beautiful things about perennial forages is that we may not have gotten the ideal first time around, but we have an opportunity to do it the second or third or fourth time," he stated.
High-quality hay is essential for many classes of livestock. Hay that has been allowed to age loses protein and energy that livestock need. Poor-quality hay might lead to the need for supplemental feeds, which can be expensive for producers.
Purdue Extension Beef Specialist Ron Lemenager suggested that farmers test hay samples for nutritional value.
"I think it's logical to test the forages, see what you've got, and then develop a supplementation strategy and get those supplements forward contracted to be cost effective," he said.