I recently ran across an old picture of my grandad and I taken in the late spring of 1987. I published the photo on my blog under another title but truth to tell it actually got me thinking about haying time more than anything else. I clearly remember that grandpa was peeved about stopping his work to get his picture made that day, but what I didn’t go into detail about in my story was why that was so.
Haying time comes all in a rush and there is a huge financial impact centered around weather and machine delays. The trade off is volume vs. nutritive quality of the hay. As hay matures, the volume goes up but the quality goes down. Maximizing both quality and quantity relative to the livestock species in question is the goal. For growing beef cattle, lactating dairy animals (and growing heifers) as well as horses in work, the optimal window for getting high quality grass hay up is less than a week long and it occurs from just before until just after the grass heads out. With alfalfa, the quality/quantity peak occurs from mid bud to very early bloom….maybe ten days to two weeks if the weather is optimal. Hay quality declines linearly (and rapidly) once peak nutritive quality is reached.
A two week delay at the wrong time of year is often the difference between excellent quality and worthless junk. Regardless of livestock species, excellent quality hay = markedly improved performance on (often dramatically) reduced quantities of grain. For those of us in the grass fed beef business, getting up good hay becomes even more critical because we can’t supplement an animal’s growth by feeding grain, even when it makes economic sense to do so. I need the best forage I can make in order to put weight on in an economically efficient manner in seasons when pasture growth is minimal.
Getting hay put up at the right time is critical, and in humid areas of the country weather is often an impediment to getting forage up when it needs to be. This is especially true in the spring when the grass is lush and wet and the weather is often still cool (and wet). In many cases, trying to bale good quality dry hay in the spring is more or less a futile experience. It takes three or four warm, dry, sunny days in order to cure early spring forage enough to put it in the barn and in this part of the world getting three or four warm, sunny dry days in a row in early April is chancy at best. As such, for most types of cattle the first cutting is often put up as baleage (wilted, baled and immediately wrapped in white plastic) or haylage (wilted, chopped and blown in some type of silo). This reduces the length of time required to dry hay from three or four days to a much more manageable one to two days. As a general rule, it’s much easier to bale second and later cuttings as dry hay because these tend to occur in the middle of the summer when it’s consistently hotter and there are longer periods between rains.
Of course not every animal on the farm needs to get fed high-test hay every day, and it’s important to match forage quality to an animal’s ability to utilize it. Most of our retired horses don’t require exceptional amounts of protein or energy in order to maintain homeostasis. Because of this we can make use of some well put up (dry and weed free) but later cut hay that would be less suitable for growing horses or horses in work.
Hope everyone had a great weekend!
Murphy, Boo, Alex, B-Rad, Darby and Ogie making their way through the pasture yesterday. Everyone is pretty sedate but at about the 18 second mark B-Rad shows off his jumper skills and jumps the little ditch.
Cuffie and Boo playing over the fence
Cuffie trying to get Fuzzy to play with him. Fuzzy looks a bit uncertain. “I’ve heard about you. You want to lure me over looking all small and innocent and then you bite me!”
MyLight rolling with Harmony grazing nearby. The first thing I thought when I saw this picture was “look at how nice her feet look. Nice big frogs and wide heels!”
Then Lily went down for a nap next to MyLight and Harmony
Tony, Ivan and Trigger
Hemi and Apollo