When to Cut for Hay or Greenfeed

  From the July 31, 2017 Issue of Agri-News
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 If bottom leaves are starting to brown off or dropping off plants, says an Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) specialist, there is no point putting off cutting for hay or greenfeed in the hope of getting more bales or tonnes per acre.

“In many areas of the province, moisture is very limited and crops are developing very rapidly,” says Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist, Alberta Ag-Info Centre. “Some are going dormant, especially in the native rangelands and pastures. For tame pasture or hayland, and annual crops, the stands are not growing or increasing tonnage but rather staying at the same height or starting to die off. If you wait to cut these crops, the net result will be fewer bales or tonnes per acre and the quality of the forage, greenfeed or silage will continue to drop the longer the crop is left standing.”

Yaremcio says what is most important is to save the feed quality that exists now. “Feed test to establish quality. Rations can be developed to mix off good quality hay, silage or greenfeed with other extenders such as straw or crop aftermath to provide a balanced ration over the winter.”

One of the main objectives of a plant during the growing season is to produce a viable seed head so that the species can develop new seedlings in the next year. Survival is the long term objective.

In a normal growing season, development follows the regular pattern with a balance in the development of carbohydrates or sugars, protein, and fibre development. In dry years, plants mature at a faster rate which reduces the total amount of growth (yield) but fibre increases at a faster rate than normal and protein content decreases faster than normal.

“The nutritional content of the forage changes dramatically after plants have headed out and the seed heads have been fertilized,” says Yaremcio. “At that point, resources are put into developing a viable seed, rather than putting nutrients into the leaves or root system. In grass species, the maturation process can be two to weeks faster than in a normal year, and quality declines more rapidly. Protein content drops by 1 to 1.5 per cent per week and TDN content drops by three to four points per week. Cutting by calendar date in a dry year could result in the hay, greenfeed or silage being considerably lower in quality than expected. Colour of the hay or greenfeed is not a reliable indicator of quality. For silage, plant sugar content drops as the plant matures. Sugars are needed to drive the fermentation process when making silage.”

Legumes are affected by dry growing conditions no differently than are grasses and cereal crops, says Yaremcio.

“Legumes drop older leaves to conserve moisture. Leaves and flowers contain the highest nutrient content of all plant parts. When leaves start to drop, quality of the forage is reduced dramatically.”

For more information, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Alberta Ag-Info Centre
310-FARM (3276)

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Barry Yaremcio.
This document is maintained by Ken Blackley.
This information published to the web on July 20, 2017.