The vast majority of haymakers in the U.S. are at the mercy of Mother Nature for good harvesting weather at a specific point in time when the crop is at the desired forage quality. It’s not just about one day of sun — consecutive days are needed.
So what if that doesn’t happen?
“It’s much easier to say than to put it into practice, but the prudent approach is to be patient,” says Mark Sulc, forage specialist with The Ohio State University. “Though quality is lost with each passing day, the complete loss of the value of one cutting is better than ruining a forage stand for the remainder of its productive life by inflicting severe wheel track damage,” he adds.
Sulc notes that younger stands are especially vulnerable to wheel track damage when soils are wet.
Though the weather can’t be controlled, there are methods to speed drying time and enhance the chances of getting hay baled before the next round of showers. First on Sulc’s list is to lay forage into a wide swath. “Try to get windrows that cover at least 65 percent of the cutting width,” notes Sulc. The forage agronomist also emphasizes to make sure that conditioner rollers or flails are set properly.
“Tedding soon after mowing is also a good practice to speed drying by maximizing the forage surface to sun exposure. This needs to be done soon after mowing — either the same day or early the next day,” explains Sulc. He notes that this is especially a good option for grasses because leaf damage is less of an issue than with legumes.
Baling at moistures wetter than those typically recommended for dry hay (below 15 percent) is also an option if propionic acid is being applied at the baler. Sulc emphasizes to apply the equivalent of 10 pounds of actual acid (not product) per ton for effective preservation. Product formulations vary and so the pounds of actual product that need to be applied will also be different.
Finally, the forage specialist suggests baleage, especially for first cutting when weather has the highest risk of turning ugly. Baleage is ideally baled at 45 to 55 percent moisture, significantly reducing drying time. Sulc recommends using a lactic acid bacteria inoculant for first-cut legumes. “Naturally occurring populations of these bacteria can be too low when legume crops are wilted under cool and/or short periods,” he explains.