All About Grazing: Hay harvesting tips for a better crop

Cutting excess pasture for hay is one tool to handle the rapid spring growth. However, getting hay dry in May and early June can be difficult.Drying time is impacted by forage species, environmental conditions, cut height, conditioning and swath width. Getting hay up quickly in the spring may help in reducing rain damage.

Rain causes loss of leaves and the leaching of soluble nutrients from hay. Although a challenge in the spring, good management and a few simple steps can help to reduce drying time allowing you to store some high quality forage.

Rapid wilting and exposure to solar radiation is achieved by utilizing properly tuned equipment. Having forage in proper dry hay status means that we need to remove approximately 1,600 pounds of moisture from each ton of fresh cut forage.

Mower/conditioners help to reduce hay drying time. Mower/conditioner roller clearance should be inspected regularly and adjusted to manufacturer specifications in order to avoid under and over conditioning of forages. The swath width can influence hay drying time as well.

When to ted

High yielding forages should be laid in a wide swath. Tedding is often utilized to reduce drying time by spreading the hay. While tedding increases costs in terms of time and fuel this cost is offset by a reducing in drying time. Tedding hay shortly after cutting and when it contains no less than 50 percent moisture will reduce leaf shatter and forage loss.

Cutting hay in the morning after the dew is off can help speed drying time and reduce the loss of carbohydrates due to respiration. Respiration is a natural process and continues until the plant dries to a moisture content of approximately 40 percent.

Raking hay at the improper moisture content may contribute to loss of plant leaf material. The best moisture content for raking is 30-40 percent.

Raking when the hay is ready to bale (very dry) can cause major leaf shatter and reduce the overall nutrient content of the forage. Bailing at the proper moisture content based on the size and shape of bales can also reduce harvest and storage loss. For most small rectangular and large round bales, the recommended bailing moisture content is 18 percent.

For high-density large rectangular bales the range can be 12-14 percent moisture for proper storage. Rapid curing of hay is influenced by the timing of our production practices.Follow the few simple steps above in preparation for baling to reduce drying time this spring.

About the Author

The author is an Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator in Guernsey County. More Stories by Clif Little

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