Now that we’re well into the hay-feeding and hay-marketing seasons, you likely have a good idea about how the 2014 hay crop measures up. That makes this an excellent time to consider implementing steps that can help improve this year’s haying season.
When it comes to putting up high-quality hay, several factors — weather being the biggest one — are beyond our control. That makes it doubly important to focus your efforts on the areas you can impact.
Timing is everything. Stage of maturity at the time of harvest is one of the most important factors affecting forage quality. According to University of Missouri specialists, most forages lose 20 percent of total digestible nutrients (TDN) and 40 percent of protein when harvest lags as few as 10 days past the optimum stage of maturity. If you consistently miss that ideal window, determine why, and then consider ways to resolve the issues: hire extra help; have custom crews handle one or more phases of harvest; add equipment; make sure equipment is in good repair and field-ready; have the most common parts on hand; etc.
Reduce storage losses. 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 hay crop may pencil out easier than you think. Target available indoor storage toward 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.
Keep equipment humming. Breakdowns have little regard for your haying schedule, but they can have a major impact. Now is the time to work through all of your hay equipment to ensure it’s ready to roll through that first cutting. Your Case IH dealer and your dealership’s parts and service department can help with maintenance schedules and service tips. If you decide you’re ready for a new piece of equipment, take advantage of 0 percent financing (0.9 percent for 72 months) on new Case IH hay and forage equipment purchased by March 31, 2015. See disclaimer.
Sample and analyze. It’s important to pull samples for analysis. Knowing your hay’s feed value can help you: 1) measure how you’re doing and flag areas for improvement; 2) earn premiums if you’re selling hay; and 3) properly balance rations — and maybe reduce reliance on supplements — if you’re feeding your hay on farm.
Timely cutting, baling at optimum moisture levels, handling bales carefully and storing them properly can help ensure a successful hay season. And a little prep work now can help ensure you’re ready when the time is right.