Think about what it takes for your hay crop to become a high-value feed source for your livestock or hay-buying customers: good timing, attention to detail and a little bit of luck. If you prepare, plan ahead and balance your goals against weather realities, your skills and know-how will leave less to chance.
No matter how well you manage your hay crop — from planting quality seed to soil testing and fertility to weed control — you’ll have a hard time hitting optimum harvest windows if your equipment isn’t ready. Review these tips and work with the Parts and Service Department at your local Case IH dealer to get your hay cutting and harvesting equipment in shape before heading to the field. Then, it’s just a matter of time and timing.
Ready to cut. Digestibility and nutrient values for most forages peak while they are in the vegetative stage. Cutting hay at that stage may produce the highest-quality feed but at a lower quantity. As plants mature and move from the vegetative stage to the seed stage, digestibility drops but amount of forage harvested increases. Which is more important? Here are some considerations:
- If your aim is dairy- or horse-quality hay, go for quality over quantity.
- Beef cows are superstars at converting lower-quality forages into meat; you may decide to sacrifice a level of quality to gain more biomass.
- Watch the weather. If forecasters give you a window to get your crop up while avoiding rain, grab it — even if it means giving up a bit of quality or quantity.
Bale it right. Leaf retention plays a big role in hay quality. According to South Dakota State University Extension, baling at 15 percent moisture or higher preserves more leaves than baling at less than 15 percent moisture. But too much moisture can result in mold growth and spoilage. Hay stores well below 18 to 20 percent moisture. Hay preservatives help prevent rain-damaged hay by opening up the harvest window. They are ideal when weather threatens or when you need to cover lots of acres in a tight time frame.
Store it right. Hay and forages are more valuable than ever. It makes sense to do all you can to protect them and minimize losses. The first step is to remove bales from hayfields as quickly as possible. Delays can result in bale footprints and wheel traffic inhibiting the next cutting’s growth. Our complete lineup of tractors, loaders and attachments can help you efficiently move hay into storage.
Obviously, outside-stored hay suffers the greatest losses in quality — as high as 25 percent between dry matter and feed value losses. Evaluate economical options for covered hay storage. Protecting your valuable hay crop may pencil out easier than you think. Target available indoor storage for your highest-quality hay. If you must store hay outside, use well-drained sites, allow a minimum of 3 feet between bale rows, stay away from trees and other shady areas, and feed outdoor-stored hay first.
Know your hay’s worth. It’s important to pull hay samples for analysis. Knowing its feed value can help you:
- Measure how you’re doing and flag areas for improvement
- Earn premiums if you’re selling hay
- Properly balance rations — and potentially reduce reliance on supplements — if you’re feeding your hay on farm
Help protect and enhance the value of your hay crop: cut at the proper time, bale at optimum moisture levels, handle bales carefully and store bales properly. Put a plan in place that’s best-suited for your individual needs and goals.