Table of Contents
- 7 Essential Tips for Growing High-Quality Hay
7 Essential Tips for Growing High-Quality Hay
Hay can be a profitable crop, rivaling other cash crops, but it requires proper management and favorable weather conditions. The labor-intensive nature of hay production makes it a challenging endeavor, with multiple passes through the fields for cutting, raking, baling, and moving alfalfa. If you want to produce a top-notch alfalfa yield, University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension forage specialist Bruce Anderson shares seven key steps to follow:
1. Choose the right field.
For vigorous alfalfa growth, it’s crucial to have a soil pH in the range of 6.5 to 7. Select a field that has had minimal issues with weeds in the past. In case you have to use a weed-prone site, explore different alfalfa varieties and herbicide options.
2. Plant the appropriate seed variety.
Opt for an alfalfa variety that is both digestible and low in lignin. These traits increase the chances of obtainin a healthy and abundant crop.
3. Regularly monitor your fields.
Spend time in the fields at least twice a week to scout for signs of diseases and pests such as the alfalfa weevil and potato leafhopper. Early detection allows for timely intervention and protection of your crops.
4. Time your alfalfa cutting correctly.
Finding the perfect timing for mowing is a balancing act, considering dry days and crop maturity. Cut the alfalfa before it blooms when it is relatively young, as this ensures higher feed value. Delayed cutting leads to decreased digestibility of the coarse stems for livestock, so act promptly.
5. Optimize the drying process.
Use a properly adjusted conditioner when mowing the hay and lay it out in wide windrows. This exposes the hay to maximum sunlight, promoting quicker drying. Adequate drying is crucial for preserving the quality of the hay.
6. Pay attention to moisture levels.
The leaves of alfalfa are the most valuable part, yet they are easily lost if the hay is handled at the wrong moisture level. Rake the hay while it is still relatively moist to minimize leaf loss. Timing is critical, as there is a narrow window for raking without shaking off leaves. For large square bales, aim for moisture levels of 14-15%, while big round bales require 17-18%, and small square bales should have 18-20% moisture.
7. Implement smart bale storage practices.
Protecting the bales from the elements is essential to avoid losses. If possible, store bales in a shed or under tarps. If outdoor storage is inevitable, ensure the bales are placed on well-drained sites. For round bales, orient them in north-south rows to maximize exposure to sunlight on both sides. By following these seven tips, you can increase your chances of growing high-quality hay. Remember that proper management and favorable weather conditions are key to maximizing your yield and profitability.