The 2003 Hay Crop
Livestock Update, January 2004
Richard S. White, Extension Agent, Animal Science, Virginia Cooperative Extension
The 2003 year created unique challenges for hay making. Coming from previous drought years, the much needed rain fall was welcomed - at first. Except for four days in May, good hay making weather did not occur, within Southwest Virginia, until the first of July. Those who made hay in that window in May harvested very good quality. First cutting hay harvest continued well into August.
In studying plant physiology, we know that when a grass or legume plant matures, protein and energy decease and fiber increases. The result is that quality and palatability decrease. Table 1 summarizes hundreds of standing grass/legume forage samples analyzed during the five year period of 1998 to 2002. This data supports the maturity factor and the educational message to harvest or utilize forage early for highest quality.
Table 1: 1998 - 2002 Standing Forage Analyses
Further on-farm demonstrations document that quality is reduced 12% to 17% by the process of cutting, drying, and baling standing forage. Table 2 presents data collected during the same 1998 to 2002 period from some of the Table 1 sample sites. In most cases, the forage was cut and baled within a three day period with no rain and adequate drying conditions.
Table 2: 1998 - 2002 First Cutting Grass/Legume Hay
Now for the 2003 year. Based on forage samples taken in 2003, quality declined similar to the previous five years until mid July. An unusual increase in quality occurred around July 15 and later. Table 3 presents data from 2003 grass/legume forage samples.
Table 3: 2003 First Cutting Grass/Legume Hay
Apparently, regrowth from the base of the plants occurred as a result of ample moisture and ideal growing conditions. The plants had produced seed heads with the upper portion indicating all signs of July 15 maturity. But as the data points, new growth returned the quality to the first of June state.
I was surprised at the data, but similar results were documented by samples taken in others areas of Southwest Virginia. Likewise, producers who tract their hay harvest by field and cutting were astonished. Many producers would have started feeding the July 15 hay first, which experience tells us, would be the correct management decision.
This 2003 year does not, however, negate the wise management to harvest hay early. Do not wait until July to cut hay based on this unusual year. The long term data still support early hay harvest for highest quality.
So what does this demonstrate? Never guess at forage quality. Analyze forage to determine the value.
February and March remain and can be some the harshest weather of winter. What should you do?
Table 4 lists the nutritional requirements of cows in various stages of production. Use it to compare to your hay. If inadequacies exist, balance rations with supplemental feeds. The most deficient nutrient in hay is energy (TND) not protein. Most supplemental commodity feeds which are high in energy usually bring along enough protein to adequately balance the ration. If you have question about your rations, contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension Office.
Consequences do and will exist when the nutritional requirements of cows are not met. In the last 1/3 of gestation, January to March for most spring calving herds, poor nutrition will result in weak calves. Inadequate nutrition will decrease the cow's milking ability in early lactation. But, the greatest loss will occur when cows do not rebreed within the first 63 days of the breeding season. Providing poor nutrition will cost you two pounds of calf per day for every day the cow does not rebreed. And, the first calf heifer may not rebreed at all.
The cow herd is your profit center to market your forage. Help your profit center remain profitable through good forage management. .