By Rick Thomason
UT/TSU-Johnson County Extension Director
It was so good seeing lots of hay harvested during the last two weeks of May this year. In the 40 plus years, I’ve been living and working in Johnson County, I’ve never seen haymaking weather as good in the month of May as it was this year.
In Hamblen County, where I grew up, we always started putting up our hay in May. However, in the mountains, the weather usually doesn’t cooperate with us enough to put up hay this early. It is either not hot enough to cure the hay, which means that you have to leave it mowed down in the field for a longer period or it rains every other day which increases the risk for getting the hay damaged.
This year, however, we had two good weeks of hot, dry weather for farmers to get in their hay fields early. I sure hope that you took advantage of this time to put up some of your hay crops. Your livestock will undoubtedly appreciate it this winter when you start feeding them this hay.
Now, why is this so important to get the hay up this early? The stage of growth greatly influences hay quality.
When grasses are in what we call their vegetative or leafy state that is when they are the most nutritious for feeding livestock. Once the grasses start into their reproductive stage (making seed heads), the quality of the hay drops significantly.
Most years in Johnson County due to our weather, the hay crop gets overripe before our farmers have a chance to get it harvested. This makes for some poor quality hay to feed the livestock in the winter. The hay has large sturdy stems and is not very nutritious, which means that the farmers have to supplement it with some grain.
Another good reason to get the hay up early is that with our short growing season in the mountains, this will allow for more re-growth this summer to use for a second cutting of hay this fall. If you were one of the ones who got up some of your hay crops during the last two weeks of May, I would highly encourage you to get the bales out of the field as soon as possible so that it won’t hinder the re-growth of the grasses in your hay field. I don’t like to see rolls of hay left sitting in the fields for weeks and even months in the summer.
It is recommended that you store your hay inside if at all possible to preserve the quality of your hay. Just make sure the hay is dry before storing it in the barn. High moisture will cause the bales to heat up, which increases the chance of barn fires.
If it is necessary to store some hay outdoors, try to keep it off the ground using pallets or large stones and covered with a tarp if possible. Do not store hay in fencerows, under trees or in the shade of buildings as this increases spoilage of your hay. Arrange your hay rolls with the ends facing north to south and if the bales are going to be left uncovered, leave some space between your hay rolls to allow for more air movement. Hay rolls stored outside uncovered will have losses of about 1/3, so feed these to your livestock first this winter.