What’s your hay outlook?

cut hay

With first cutting progressing across the state, now is the time to evaluate your hay outlook for the year. Here are some questions to ask yourself: How have your yields been? What do you think your next cutting will look like? Do you have any leftover hay from years before?

By asking yourself these questions, you are going to come to one of three conclusions: you are right on track, you have an abundant supply or you have a low supply.

Let’s look at some options you can take if you have an abundant or low supply of hay. Because the time to plan is now and the earlier you plan will result in more available options.

Abundant supply

Having an abundant supply of hay is a good problem to have. But, what do you do with the extra hay that you won’t use? Do you keep it, or would you like to make a profit?

The first thing that may come to mind is to sell your extra hay. Selling hay can be easy or hard depending on what the market looks like around you. What is the quality of that hay, and what about all the inputs that were put into making that hay?

You could also go with more of a long-term investment by buying more livestock to use your extra hay. One thing to make sure of, though, is that your pasture can withstand the extra livestock, if you are grazing livestock during the year when you are not feeding hay.

Another alternative to making the extra hay is to graze the hay fields. This may take some creative thinking because you may not have easy water access, fencing around the field or an easy way to get the animals to the field. But, it is generally three times more expensive to feed an animal stored forage than to make them graze it.

One thing to be aware of if grazing a hay field is pugging, where the animal is leaving hoof imprints in the field. Also, make sure to not let the animals overgraze the field because that could potentially harm the stand going forward.

Low supply

Depending on the time of the year, you could have many options to handle having a low supply of hay. You could buy the hay that you need to make up for your short supply or you could sell some livestock — I bet these are the first two that come to mind.

But, if you look at your outlook early enough, you still have other options. You could graze corn stalks, stockpile fields, graze hay fields, plant something or do a combination of these. If you are not getting enough hay out of your hay fields, as you have before, or what you think you should be getting, you may want to soil test your fields to check their fertility.

If you have access to corn stalks, they can provide energy and crude protein. Cattle and sheep eat the grain first, then the husk and leaf and finally the cob and stalks. If you want to maximize the quality of those corn stalks in the field, quality is highest in the first 60 days.

Stockpiling is also a great option because it can take very minimal effort on your part, but that depends on your situation. If your pastures are producing well enough, you could take a field or two out of your grazing rotation.

The date when you start to stockpile is a compromise between quantity and quality. Late July to early August is a good target date, but some factors to consider are rain and what will the forage utilization be with your livestock.

You could also add around 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre to increase quality and yield. The sooner you graze, the greater the quality but less quantity, and the opposite the longer you wait.

Now, if you do not have a field that you take out of your pasture rotation, you can graze your hay fields after you have taken your last cutting of hay off, and add them to your rotation. You could even stockpile a field or two to graze later.

This would be very similar to grazing hay fields as I talked about in the abundant supply of hay section. Just make sure the weather is in your favor. This could be a nice option, as most hayfields will probably have had some sort of growth to them after your last cutting by the time you graze them.

When it comes to planting, there are many options that you can go with. Brassicas are a good option for summer to grow extra feed fast. It takes forage turnips around 60 days to reach max quality, and at 90 days you have max yield. Some potential issues you could run into are high nitrate levels, toxic compounds when flowering and low fiber levels. Brassicas work best when grazed with small grains or stockpiled fescue.

You can also plant summer annual grasses like sudangrass, pearl millet, sorghum-sudangrass or teff grass. With the summer annual grasses, you could get a cutting, or maybe two for hay or haylage, then have a chance to graze it. Be on the watch for a frost as fall approaches with your summer annual grasses because some contain cyanogenic glucosides, which are converted to prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) when the plants are damaged by frost, and could make livestock severely ill or cause death.

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