How to ensure good-quality hay

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

We are blessed in summer with long days and cool nights in our area, which just happens to be ideal for producing high-yielding, good quality forages.
It is quite simple to tell whether or not you had good yields from your hay fields, but it is more difficult to ensure the hay you took off is good quality.
In recent years, the use of Relative Feed Value (RFV) has become a common industry standard of expressing forage quality.
RFV is measured by a feed analysis. It determines the acid detergent fiber (ADF), which indicates the digestibility of the forage.
This, combined with the neutral detergent fiber (NDF) test, which indicates the potential intake of the forage, determines the RFV.
The ideal RFV is 150—the industry standard for prime hay.
In addition to a high RFV, a high-quality hay should have small stems, soft texture, celery-green colour, and a 10-12 percent moisture content.
Your chances of getting a high-quality hay depend greatly on when it is harvested. Determining a proper forage harvest date is imperative because nutritive value drops as the crop matures.
The date of the first cut often will determine the quality of subsequent cuts. Even a slight delay in the first cutting can have negative repercussions on the rest of the growing season, possibly slowing re-growth and reducing future yields.
Further, since the first cut is the highest-yielding, it is very important to harvest this at the correct stage.
Ideally, the decision when to take the first cut should be based on plant development.
If you have alfalfa in your hay fields, keep an eye out for when budding starts. Harvesting at the bud stage allows you to get more cuttings per year, increase production, and improve the quality of your forage.
After cutting, drying the hay as quickly as possible adds to the quality. One suggestion is to cut early in the morning to get the maximum drying time in one day.
Standing forage has a moisture content of 85-90 percent, but this can drop to 60 percent within eight hours under good drying conditions as moisture is lost through cut and bruised ends and cell pores.
The second stage of drying continues until the hay is down to about 18 percent, but this stage takes 24-36 hours, again, under good drying conditions.
It is recommended that you store all your harvested hay under cover as quickly as possible.
Hay sheds are the most economical form of storage, but tarps will work, as well.
Dates to remember
•July 27–Soil and crop tour (starts 11 a.m. at the Emo research station); and
•July 27–Emo research station open house, 7 p.m.

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