(post by Jason) There is much truth to the statement that first cut hay is a challenge to make no matter where in the world you’re trying to make it. If it’s cut when it’s supposed to be the grasses are still somewhat immature which means they are actively green and growing aka the moisture content of the plants is very high. On top of this, the ground underneath the hay is also (hopefully) still moist from spring rains. Moist grass plus moist ground means it takes a lot longer to adequately dry first cut hay than it does later on in the summer. The weather itself is also somewhat changeable during first cutting. A stretch of hot summerlike days may be followed by several cool and/or wet days no matter what the weather forecast suggests. Cool and/or wet days don’t dry hay very well.
So why all the worry about rain ? First of all, hay that goes through more than one drying cycle is a lot more prone to lose leaves during the tedding, baling and storage process. Leaves are where most of the good nutrients are, so when hay loses leaves the quality goes down really fast. If it’s going to rain on my hay I would really prefer that it do so within 24 hours of being cut. This prolongs the drying cycle some but it may not completely ruin the hay if it’s only an aberrant shower. Day long rains take everything off the table. If cut hay stays wet enough for long enough it will begin to ferment right in the field which makes it absolutely worthless as a source of feed. Every farmer that makes dry hay has been down that road one too many times.
In spite of the considerable investiture in machinery and manpower it’s entirely possible that you may have to go buy hay to replace your stuff that got ruined thanks to the weather. Spending money the first time is plenty for me; I get in a bad mood real fast when things conspire to ensure that I have to spend it twice. Fortunately here in Tennessee sunny and 90 is not an odd weather forecast even in early May. It doesn’t take a whole lot of those sorts of days to dry down hay enough to get it baled and in the barn.
In cool wet climates making hay in the spring time is even more of a challenge than it is here; so much so in fact that in Western Europe even horses have to get by on vaccum wrapped silage or haylage. It’s a lot easier to wilt hay to 50 % moisture than it is to dry it completely but feeding haylage comes with it’s own source of challenges and concerns, especially for horses.
Today was the day we laid our first crop of first cut down here at the farm. Please cross your fingers and hope the hot dry weather we’ve got in the forecast holds through Saturday. After Saturday start praying for rain again !