A prolonged stretch of rainy weather has forage growers in parts of Ohio nervous about starting first cutting while crops are at a high-quality stage, says Marc Sulc, forage specialist with Ohio State University (OSU) Extension.

“While we've all been focused on getting planting done between the rains, our established forage crops have quietly been growing rapidly,” Sulc wrote in a recent edition of OSU’s C.O.R.N. Newsletter. “I hate to say this, but first cutting of forages is just about upon us. Orchardgrass was just beginning to shoot a head in central Ohio last Friday (May 9). The alfalfa stands that were not severely injured by winter are looking great and growing fast.”

Producers needing high-quality feed for lactating dairy cows are especially under the gun. “Pure grass stands should be harvested in the late boot stage just before the heads start to peek out. So for orchardgrass in the central and southern half of Ohio, that means harvest should begin as soon as the weather and soil moisture permits.”

Timely first and second cuttings are critical for high-quality forage, Sulc explains. Fiber accumulates faster in the first two growth cycles in May and June than it does later in the summer. “In other words, for high-quality forage, take your first and second harvests early. Then you can extend the cutting interval in late summer (July into August), because the quality penalty for delayed cutting is much less in late summer than it is this time of the year.”

Timing is less of an issue in stands that suffered winter injury. “(They) should be allowed to grow longer this spring and get into the bloom stage to allow energy reserves to build up. This will help the plants to recover from winter injury and regrow the rest of the summer. Use that forage for animals having lower nutrient requirements.”