Forages are valuable, whether you put up high-quality dairy hay, horse hay or grass hay to keep those high-value beef cows in condition. A timely harvest is good for your livestock, your hay-buying customers and your bottom line.
With the nation’s beef cattle herd expanding on significantly fewer forage acres, plus steady global demand, the hay market will remain strong. As the season’s first cutting quickly approaches, will you be ready to seize the opportunity?
Time is of the essence in high-quality hay production. University of Missouri research shows that most forages lose 20 percent of their total digestible nutrients and 40 percent of their protein just 10 days after their optimal harvest stage, which is:
- Between the bud stage (just before blossoms open) and 10 percent bloomed for alfalfa
- The boot stage (when undeveloped seed heads are near emergence from the top of their stems) for tall fescue, timothy and most other forage grasses
- After seed heads have emerged for brome and orchardgrass
Forage plants grow and mature quickly, especially under favorable spring conditions. That first cutting can sneak up on us when we’re busy with other cropping tasks. Take advantage of rainy days or other breaks during the planting season to spend time prepping your hay equipment. With such a tight window for high-quality hay production, two things are certain: You want to be ready to cut when your crop is in, and you don’t want to spend time fixing when you need to be haying. Here are a few recommendations to help keep your windrows in order:
Stay sharp. Clean, efficient cutting reduces leaf loss due to shattering and prevents stem damage. Damaged stems slow plant recovery, which can delay the next cutting. Sharpen or replace all blades, sickle sections and cutting mechanisms. Look for damaged or worn sickle guards.
Inspect equipment thoroughly. Check belts and hoses for cracks and wear. Properly tighten chains and belts. Make sure tires are properly inflated to prevent wear and minimize soil compaction.
Repair or replace. Check shafts, sprockets, pulleys and bearings for signs of wear. The Parts and Service Department at your Case IH dealership can help you determine the lifespan of parts and prioritize those for immediate replacement. And of course, if you determine replacing an entire piece of equipment is the best option, your Case IH dealer can help you select the right implement from our full line of hay and forage equipment.
Lubricate. If you didn’t grease and check fluids prior to storing equipment at the end of last season, check your operators manuals for lubrication schedules and ensure you’re current.
Take inventory and stock up. Make sure you have plenty of twine, wrap and hay preservatives, plus sickle sections and guards, on hand. Adequate inventories can save you a trip to town or prevent a middle-of-the-night shutdown.
With your equipment field-ready, you can focus on timing and the weather. After all, next to cutting at the proper maturity, few factors impact hay quality more than the conditions between cutting and baling — providing yet another incentive for a timely harvest.