Gerry Danko of Danko Farms in Powell, WY, has captured first-place honors in the new grass hay category in the 2011 World Forage Analysis Superbowl. Winners were announced last week at a luncheon during World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI.

Danko, who describes himself as a semi-retired farmer, grows mixed grass and alfalfa hay on 30 irrigated acres. He puts up all of his hay in 60- to 65-lb small square bales and sells mostly to local horse owners. Over the past 10 years or so, he's carved out a niche market for supplying certified weed-free hay to several outfitting companies specializing in mountain trail rides.

His winning entry in the category came from a second cutting of orchardgrass-bromegrass hay. The entry tested 17.5% crude protein, 26.6% ADF and 34% NDF with a relative forage quality (RFQ) score of 270.

More than anything, putting up grass hay of this quality requires paying attention to "a bunch of details," says Danko, who also took third-place honors in this year's commercial hay category with an alfalfa entry. Weed management is one of his emphasis points. "We don't want anything out there competing with it for nutrients and water."

Water management is equally important in Danko's high-desert (4,200' elevation) growing environment. He typically starts flood-irrigating his crop in early May and continues every two weeks until late September or early October. "We usually only get 5" of precipitation here each year, maybe 6" in a good year," he relates. "Staying on top of irrigation is absolutely critical."

Timely cutting is essential. During a typical year, he takes three cuttings starting in mid-June and aims for follow-up cuttings every 45 days. "We like to get at that first cutting right before the grass heads out if the weather allows," he says. "If it gets too mature on us, it doesn't return as well for the next cutting, and that puts us behind for the season."

To contact Danko, call 307-754-4350 or email cdanko@bresnan.net.

Read more about this year's Superbowl results.