Hay making tips to produce quality round bales

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By Trevor Lennox, Regional Forage Specialist, Swift Current

Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture

Haying season is approaching quickly, and the purpose of this article is to pass on a few hay production tips for making quality round bales.

Cutting:

The single most important factor affecting hay quality is the stage of maturity at cutting. Young, vegetative forage is higher in protein and energy than older, flowering material. As forages mature, fibre increases while protein and digestibility decrease.

Delaying hay harvest tends to maximize forage yield but at considerably lower forage quality.

Stubble height should be left high enough to hold the windrow off the ground and facilitate air movement through it.

Baling

The key to keeping storage losses to a minimum is to bale at moisture levels between 15 per cent and 18 per cent to prevent heating and mold growth. As bale size and density increases –proper baling moisture is much more critical to prevent heating.

Looking to speed up cutting and baling?

Some producers have made the switch to disk bines in order to speed up cutting time, however, land must have minimal stones as the disks are more susceptible to stone damage.

Some producers have made the switch to net wrap and have speeded up their haying operations significantly. Net wrapped bales only need 1.5 to 2.5 turns within the baler to wrap a bale, compared to 20 to 30 turns with twine. This speeds up the baling process, allowing more to get done when the weather is good. Net wrapped bales also appear to shed moisture better when in storage, thus reducing storage losses. The main down-side of net wrapped bales is that they are more inclined to freeze hard to the ground during the winter months.

Storage

The external layer of weathered hay represents a substantial loss of yield and quality. An interesting fact is that larger diameter bales have less volume per unit of surface area exposed to weathering. For example, a 2 inch layer of weathered material on a 4 x 4 bale represents 16 per cent of the bale volume while the same 2 inch layer on a 6 x 5 bale represents only 11 per cent of the volume.

High-density bales will tend to sag less, exposing less surface area to the ground and a good thatch cover on the bale surface helps shed precipitation. Large hard-core bales tend to lose less value during storage than smaller soft-core bales.

It is important for a producer to do what they can to minimize forage losses when putting up feed for the winter. One Canadian study looked at average losses that occur from the time forage is cut through to the time it is set out in feeders in front of an animal, and on average 25 per cent of the value of the standing forage crop is lost before it even enters the animals’ digestive tract. If this loss is related to the land base and if forage yield (standing) is 1.5 tons/acre, then the loss is $30/acre when hay is valued at $80/ton. This example shows the importance of doing what you can to minimize the economic losses associated with producing forage.

If you have further questions related to making hay, you can contact Trevor at 306-778-8294, or Trevor.lennox@gov.sk.ca.

Organizations: Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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