Weather winning in annual struggle with hay growers

Hay growers always battle against the weather and through early July in 2015, the weather was clearly winning the battle. By July 5, only 67% of the first cutting alfalfa hay in Ohio was done and only 47% of the first cutting of other hay had been made, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Second cutting was also lagging far behind.

Making hay has been tough going this year in northeast Ohio.

“I have been hearing a lot of grumbling about this rainy weather pattern and comments about how difficult or impossible it is to get any hay put up,” said Rory Lewandowski
 Wayne County Extension educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources. “There has not been much dry hay that has been baled. If it was dry baled, it most likely had some rain on it. There was a brief window late last week through Monday of this week that allowed some hay to get baled without rain, but the quality was low because it was so mature. And that’s the other comment I am hearing — quality is low. This is going to have a ripple effect from now until next spring as this forage is fed.”

Chopping has been the only way to get hay made in some cases.

“For dairy producers, quite a bit of second cutting alfalfa was cut and harvested the second half of the week of June 22 to 26 and then again last part of last week. All of this is either wet wrapped baleage or ensiled as haylage in bunkers. First cutting on most of those acres was the week of May 18, so the timing for second cut meant lower quality with a lot of that alfalfa cut the second time at 50% to 75% bloom or greater in some cases,” Lewandowski said. “I was talking with a dairy producer yesterday and he mentioned that they got second cutting made, but only because they chop it and harvest as haylage. However, the quality is low and that is the feed source they have now. This will impact milk production and/or the cost to supplement that lower quality.”

Decisions about moving forward will have to be carefully considered.

“Part of the issue is also how much damage do you want to do to the field and those plants. You have to balance out field compaction, damage to plants, ruts, etc., which are longer-term issues with this shorter-term condition. We need one or two days of sun just to dry the fields out enough to get on them, and that is on the well-drained fields. There are other fields that need more time,” Lewandowski said. “Going forward I’m reluctant to say pray for sun and dry weather because I’m afraid that’s what we might get. With seven to 10 days of 90 degrees and sunshine, we’ll be looking for rain. So far this has definitely been a year that if you could wrap hay or chop hay for ensiling you are a little better off than those folks who need dried hay. But again, quality is going to come back to haunt us somewhat in terms of livestock performance and cost of possible needed supplementation later.”

It was a similar story for hay in central Ohio and further south.

“There’s a lot of first cutting hay yet to make in Fairfield County and also much of the state, some second cutting ready to make now also, and no weather to allow it to happen. Unless a person was in the lower half of the county that didn’t get as much rain the first week or so of June, wet wrapped it, or were just plain lucky, very little dry hay has been made to this point that appears to have much quality,” said Stan Smith, with Fairfield County Extension. “I haven’t seen any forage analysis yet, but once plants begin to mature their digestibility declines quickly. At this point in July, anything that’s not yet been made the first time is comparable to small tree twigs in most cases.

“Locally we’re suggesting producers stay away from fields until they are dry enough to handle equipment without doing permanent damage to the field and the hay stand. At this point, the quality can’t decline too much more anyway, so waiting it out until soil conditions are acceptable costs little more. Even though we know the quality will be poor, producers need to make plans to have the forages tested and then decide what needs to be done to efficiently utilize it.”

Smith suggests trying to improve the digestibility of low quality hay by finding a way to process it into smaller pieces.

“Find a way to process it into smaller pieces as opposed to feeding it a long stem,” Smith said.

With more rain in the forecast, it appears that hay struggles may continue in this soggy 2015 growing season.

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