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WHEN TO CUT HAY

Posted Sep 28, 2017 by Alan Xu

With hay season coming close in Australia, the big question in people’s mind is “When do I cut?”, and the answer is a bit disappointing, “It depends”. Someone may feel confused about the real meaning of “It depends”, so T&H Packaging will explain some more details.

Actually, if we look further into this question, it depends on what you want to do with the feed. It’s all about finding the balance point of quantity and quality of feed.

If you have lactating ewes or cows to feed, you will be needing the highest quality feed possible, which means you will need high levels of digestibility, metabolizable energy (ME) and protein; if you just need feed for dry ewes or cows, which means you can give up some quality in exchange of more tones of dry matter.

In general, the earlier we cut the higher the quality but potentially lower the yield, the later we cut the higher the yield but lower the quality. Silage will often produce higher quality feed than hay from the same cut.

Besides, for different hay, the timing will also be different. For temperate grasses and legumes, cut before flowering and even better before head emergence. For cereals, either flag leaf or booting (early ear emergence) for quality or at the milky dough stage if you’re looking for quantity.

The timing of hay cut doesn’t only depend on the forage itself, but also the weather. The hay production of Australia last season has suffered vast range of rain damage due to bad weather. It is very critical to have a consistent dry weather to cure the hay. The risk of rain damage will always exist, the only thing we can do is follow the weather forecast.

Apart from rain damage, hay respiration by the plant does not stop whenever the crop is cut. In fact, the moisture in the crop has to drop below 47% moisture for respiration to totally cease. Hay respiration can reduce sugar content in the crop. If the weather is dry enough, the crop moisture in the field can go from ~85% moisture to less than 47% moisture in a matter of just a few hours. So, the crop should be cut as soon as possible during the day to get the hay moisture down to 47%.

Hay cut timing is an important and complicated decision to make. You need to gather as much information as you can to do the right decision.