Like most farmers these days, you’re keeping a close eye on costs. If you raise livestock, you know feed is your largest expense. Did you also know that ramping up your hay quality can help reduce those expenses? It all starts with a little time, timeliness and, of course, some good fortune.
While visiting livestock operations, University of Vermont Extension specialists noted wide variations in the amounts and quality of grains and supplements being fed across the state. They also noted a common denominator: hay quality.1
Operations feeding less grain and purchased supplements had put up higher-quality forage. Most tested at over 16 percent crude protein, with good energy and digestibility (45 percent to 50 percent neutral detergent fiber (NDF)). The Vermont Extension specialists suggest that harvesting higher-quality hay is well worth your efforts and boils down to three primary factors:
- Harvest at the right time. Most forages lose 20 percent of their total digestible nutrients and 40 percent of their protein just 10 days after their optimal harvest stage.2
- Providing proper soil nutrients is critical to hay quality. Start with a soil test. The Vermont Extension specialists recommend focusing on bringing up the low-testing field first. Many experts recommend adjusting fertility immediately after the first alfalfa cutting.3
- Introduce legumes. Older grass hayfields can lose yield and quality as less favorable forage species take over. Seeding legumes, such as clover, alfalfa or birdsfoot trefoil, can improve forage yield and quality.
Timing is everything
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 any breaks to spend time prepping your hay equipment so you’re ready to cut when your crop is. And you sure don’t want to spend time fixing when you need to be haying. Here are a few recommendations to help prepare:
Check your blades. 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 your equipment. 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.
Minimize downtime. 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 life span of parts and prioritize those for immediate replacement. And, of course, if you decide replacing an entire piece of equipment is the best option, your Case IH dealer can help you choose from our full line of hay and forage equipment, including windrowers, mowers and conditions and balers, along with the technology to measure your success.
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.
Inventory supplies. Make sure you have plenty of twine, wrap and hay preservatives, plus sickle sections and guards, on hand. There’s nothing worse than an unplanned trip to town to fetch parts or 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.
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