2017-08-17 / People

Improving hay quality

By Brian Tankersley
Lincoln County Extension Service

Feed cost is one of the main fac­tors affecting beef cattle producer’s bottom line and the largest per­centage of that feed cost involves purchasing or producing hay. If you purchase hay you want to purchase the best quality hay available at a reasonable price. If you produce your own, producing top quality hay should be a priority.

For hay producers there are some management factors to keep in mind as you try to produce the best qual­ity hay possible. What is the most important factor that affects forage quality? The answer is - the stage of maturity at harvest. The young leafy vegetative growth has a higher level of digestible nutrients and protein which declines as the plant progresses toward maturity. Gener­ally, older forages have fewer leaves and more stems and a higher fiber content.

As plants mature more lignin is deposited. This lignin causes the plant to be much less digestible and less capable of providing the energy needs of the animal. Even though you produce more total pounds of dry matter per acre with older forage you may be giving up some forage quality in the process. If you want to produce the best quality hay it is critical to harvest the plant at the recommended stage of maturity. For Bermuda grasses, that means during optimum growing season and fertil­ity you may be harvesting at 3.5 – 5 week intervals.

There are other factors that af­fect hay quality. Forage species is important because you want a spe­cies that can be consistent in good quality and persist and produce economically in your environment. Other management factors include trying to harvest hay with minimum rain damage after cutting and bal­ing hay at proper moisture levels to prevent heat damage. After harvest, having proper storage is important to maintain quality. Lastly, a good fertilization program based on soil test recommendations is very impor­tant to quality hay and maintaining consistent yields.

Producing top quality hay is not always possible due to many factors outside the growers control but if you keep these management strate­gies in mind you definitely will be heading in the right direction on forage quality.

Questions of the week:

Q. What type testing is available through the Extension Service?

A. Through the UGA Lab the most popular test is the Basic soil test which tells the nutrient levels of the soil and comes with a fertility rec­ommendation. We also have water testing and forage testing availabil­ity. There are more tests available but these are the most popular.

Q. What is the best cultural practice that I can help me pre­vent diseases in my garden?

A. There are several manage­ment practices to help with disease prevention but having a good well drained garden site that gets a good amount of sunshine is very important. Also, Crop rotation is very important in reducing losses to vegetable diseases.

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