The makings of great hay — Growth Timing

This hay season is turning into the best harvest conditions I have seen in some time. Not in terms of tons per acre or early harvesting, but rather for outstanding hay quality. The cooler spring temperatures and rain are causing the growth timing of our alfalfa and grasses to perfectly align — meaning they are all at peak harvest stages simultaneously.

Each species of forage in a field needs to be harvested just as they first begin to flower. Harvest before this stage, and you compromise the long-term health of the plant. Harvest after this stage and the hay quality declines dramatically.

As a plant begins to flower, it’s energy stores are used to begin the reproduction process — leaving less energy and nutrients in the hay. Late harvesting reduces nutrient density, energy, and palatability, and leaves the hay physically coarse and stemmy.

The trick is to achieve a hay stand in which all the species in the mix reach the perfect growth stage at the same time.

Here are a few samples of perfect growth timing taken from one of our fields today:

IMG_0220

This is one of the few alfalfa flowers just beginning to bloom in the field. If more than 10% of the buds have flowered, the hay is past peak harvesting and will be increasingly stemmy. This field is <1% in flower today.

IMG_0213

The long and slender Timothy grass seed heads are just beginning to emerge from the flower stem.

IMG_0211

Barely ahead of the Timothy grass, the Orchard grass is also in early boot stage with its unique flower just beginning to emerge.

We carefully select our plant varieties to help achieve good growth timing and buy the highest quality seeds to ensure consistency. But nothing is more impactful than the blessing of good seasonal weather patterns!

The hay pictured above was harvested today, and we hope to have it baled early this coming week if the weather holds.

Tags: , , , , , ,