Waste less hay
You wouldn't grow a corn crop and leave half of it on the ground or let it rot in storage. Yet, lots of growers do that on forage ground, particularly when it comes to making, storing, and feeding hay.
University of Missouri-Columbia forage specialist Rob Kallenbach says if you do a good job, you can deliver 75% or more of a forage produced to the animals. The average, he guesstimates, is probably about 30% due to untimely cutting, poor storage systems, and wasteful feeding practices.
The first thing you need to do correct is to cut hay on time, Kallenbach says. If you are a few weeks late on alfalfa, it's the same as cutting it on time and getting it rained on. And, on time is earlier than most people think.
“Typically, we try to make grass hay before the seed head emerges, at the boot stage,” says Kallenbach. “In Missouri, that's about mid-May, and that's 30 to 60 days before most people start.
“People don't do it in May because of the fear of rain,” he explains. “If you cut hay in May and it gets rained on, it's still better than cutting it in June, and it's much better than July. You may get fewer bales in May, but there's a lot more nutritive value packed into it. So make it on time, or you will leave a lot of quality on the table.”
Kallenbach says your strategy should be that when it is about May 10, start looking for windows to make hay. If it's raining every day, don't cut. “We do get windows of dry days even in May. But if it gets a little wet, I don't get all stressed out about that either.”
Rake hay at 35% to 40% moisture to conserve all the leaves. Any dryer and the leaves will shatter. Then bale hay at 16% to 18% moisture — no wetter than 18%, he says.
“Another thing about making hay on time, in May if at all possible, is it lets that land fall back into a grazing system later in the summer. I may need to graze that field in July or August. If I make the hay late, that is less likely to happen,” Kallenbach notes.
Cover It Up
His Missouri forage colleague, Justin Sexten, adds that as far as storing hay goes, the very best thing is to put it under roof. Storage losses in that system will be as low as 2% to 4%. You can do almost that well outside if you put hay bales on a rock pad and cover it with a trap.
“If you store hay uncovered on dirt, you can have hay losses as high as 30% to 35% or even higher,” says Sexten. “Putting it under a tree or in a waterway is the worst thing you can do. Believe it or not, we see people do that.
“You can pay for a lot of rock pads and tarps in a hurry with the hay you save by using them,” he says.
If the cost of hay is $50 per ton and you have 35% loss in storage, that hay is actually costing $70 a ton or more.
Or, says Kallenbach, “My calculation on grass hay is that with the cost of fertilizing and baling, it costs about $90 a ton to produce it. When hay was $35 a ton, maybe you could afford the losses. But now, you can't.”