February 08, 2023

Tips for producing quality hay

LEXINGTON, Ill. — Fertilizer applications are important for producing quality hay.

“Our ground is not the best, so if you want a crop you’ve got to fertilize,” said Steve Degner during a panel discussion at the Forages for Feed meeting presented by the Illinois Forage and Grassland Council. “It’s the first thing you want to cut, but probably the worst thing to cut.”

Degner has about 250 acres of hay production and sells all of the hay.

“I sell mostly by word of mouth, and if you have a good product, the word will get out,” he said.

The farmer applies fertilizer on his fields after the first and third cuttings.

“I’ve been using some trace minerals like boron and have seen some response from that,” he said.

For his hay production, Degner plants an orchard grass and alfalfa mix.

“When the alfalfa starts to wane, I no-till orchard grass into the fields to get another couple of years,” he said. “Soil sampling and hay testing are important. I test hay every time I put it in the barn.”

Cox Land And Cattle

Maria Cox is involved in her family’s farming operation that includes corn, soybeans, wheat and hay production, as well as a cow/calf operation and feedlot cattle in Illinois and Kansas.

“This is my 10th year back on the farm and our hay business is 100% reed canary grass, which we’ve been doing for 25 years,” said Cox about the farm located near White Hall.

“We grow reed canary grass because it grows well in wet soils and a lot of our fields are in creek bottom areas,” she said. “The grass is really high in protein, typically the first cutting is 12% to 13% and the second and third cuttings are 23% to 24% protein.”

Cox uses both Facebook and Twitter to market hay.

“A lot is still sold by word of mouth,” she said. “Accurately representing the hay is essential to marketing and also providing a hay test for customers.”

Hay is sold by the ton from the Cox farm.

“A lot of people want to buy by the bale,” she said. “But we weigh all our hay so everyone knows exactly what they’re getting.”

Since Cox has fewer customers with cow/calf operations, the family has altered its hay production practices.

“We’re feeding more of our hay,” she said. “We are chopping a lot of it to feed our cattle instead of making silage.”

Inoculant is added to the grass when it is chopped and put into a bunker.

“But more important is making sure we use an oxygen barrier and plastic on the top of the bunker,” Cox said.

Stewart Farms

Brandon Stewart started his first-generation farm in 2009.

“We are close to an Amish community around Arthur, Illinois, so our business is a custom hay operation,” he said during the panel discussion. “We do mowing, raking and baling from baleage to dry hay, we do custom manure spreading and we feed out some Holsteins in a monoslope.”

Stewart uses a disc mower for cutting hay.

“We were the first ones to introduce a chopping baler to the area,” he said. “With wet hay I can start baling at 8 a.m. and then by noon switch to dry hay which allows one baler to get across 120 to 150 acres per day.”

Baleage allows flexibility, Stewart said.

“We also tube dry hay, and when you feed it, it’s just like the day it’s baled,” he said. “And we don’t skimp on plastic.”

Currently, Stewart uses a liquid inoculant.

“We’re probably going to move to a dry applicator and use a sulfur-based product,” he said. “It will be easier to have a bag in tractor cab to fill the applicator.”

Now Stewart utilizes two chopping balers and he also has a 3-by-3 big square baler.

“We operate in a radius of about 50 miles, so we put from 600 to 700 hours on a tractor per year,” Stewart said.

“We cut the hay 1.5 to 2 inches high so we have lift underneath and we set it out as wide as we can which gives it a chance to air out in between rows,” he said. “Then we can come back in with a rake and flip in onto dry ground and we’re pretty big on hay fluffers which can be gentler on the hay.”

Stewart is expecting hay acreage to decrease in 2022.

“We’re looking towards annuals for a two-crop rotation as a cheaper way to feed animals,” he said.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor