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Making high-quality hay

By Staff
High-quality hay doesn't just "happen." You must plan for timely harvests and maintain good grass management techniques.
It may seem like these are difficult and expensive, but growing your own high-quality forage will minimize the need to purchase supplements.
Many times, hay is an afterthought and is taken from a pasture after it's been grazed. This hay is of poor quality, which will not provide adequate nutrition for growing animals but may be adequate to meet maintenance needs and keep mature animals alive.
Contact your local extension office for information on testing your forages. This test will help you determine which class of livestock to feed different types of hay. Keep track of where and when you cut hay from your fields when you stack and store your hay.
There are many factors which improve hay quality. First and foremost is your attitude and commitment to timely hay harvests. Set aside a field which will be devoted to hay production and don't graze it. Sample the soil and maintain high levels of phosphorus and potassium (potash) and lime your soil to a pH of 5.8 to 6.5.
See "Soil Testing for the Farmer" on how to take and interpret a soil test at msucares.com/pubs/infosheets/is346.htm and also "Forage and Pasture Crop Fertilization Guidelines" at msucares.com/pubs/infosheets/is1169.htm.
Persistence of desirable forages depends on maintaining adequate soil fertility.
It's a good practice to walk your fields and take note of the type of forage plants and weed species in each field, particularly your hay fields. You may need to add more desirable forages and improved varieties, or undertake a complete renovation.
Many times, however, you can work with what you have if you control weeds (see "Weed Control in Pastures" at msucares.com/pubs/infosheets/is945.pdf), fertilize, harvest every 30 to 35 days, and add additional seed. Bermuda grass seed can be top-dressed into an existing stand to help fill in bare areas.
Red and white clovers can also be seeded directly into a summer pasture in the fall and can considerably improve forage quality. Alyceclover and annual lespedeza make good summertime additions to grass pastures and hay fields and can be planted from March to June.
Successful top-dressed seedings, whether in the spring, early summer or fall, require a close clipping or grazing and timely rainfall.

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