Emergency haying of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land in counties where those acres have been released should be begin soon if it hasn’t been done yet, says Walt Fick, Kansas State University research and Extension range management specialist.

“Harvest date is the most important management decision affecting hay production,” says Fick.
“Timing affects production, quality, composition, amount of regrowth and subsequent plant vigor.”

Producers should leave at least a 3” stubble when cutting prairie hay, he adds.

Maximum yield of native hay generally occurs in August, but waiting until then results in lower quality, less regrowth, and can alter the composition and vigor of stands if done repeatedly over a number of years, Fick says. Plus, peak yield may have already occurred in drought-stricken counties this year. The quality of prairie hay will keep declining with time.

“Crude protein declines about one percentage unit every two weeks during the month of July, and will be no higher than 5% by late August when maximum yield normally occurs,” he says.

The timing of haying also impacts species composition and stand vigor.

“Repeated mowing around Sept. 1 can change a bluestem-dominated hay meadow to a stand dominated by broadleaf species. The change occurs because the grasses do not have a sufficient time period to replenish food reserves before frost occurs.”

Grazing of prairie hay this year should be managed carefully, too, says Fick.

“Heavy grazing in the late summer can be detrimental to next year’s production. The key is stocking rate. We need to leave enough leaf area so the plants can continue to carry out photosynthesis and store food reserves going into the winter.”

In CRP stands planted with mid-size and tall grasses, leaving a 6-8” average stubble, or about 1,000-1,500 lbs per acre, would be optimum.

Forage quality will also be low in the late season and livestock producers may want to consider how this could affect the management of their cow herds, including culling decisions, early weaning and related practices, Fick says.