Making Good Hay
It takes more than good weather
Until one of his customers had it tested, Wayne Mann had no idea just how good his farm’s hay really is. When the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation invited farmers to submit samples to their 2009 Dried Hay Contest held in conjunction with the annual Farm & Forest Expo, Mann entered hay in both the first and second cutting categories. Testing by Dairy One Forage Testing Laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y., confirmed his customer’s findings, and Manns’ Grand View Farm hay tied for first prize for second cutting and second prize for first cutting.
Returning to farming after a 26-year Air Force career, Mann and his wife Ruth settled on the Canterbury, N.H., farm where Ruth grew up. Wayne had also grown up on a farm, a dairy operation on New Hampshire’s seacoast. In 1980, the Manns began raising sheep and growing hay, tomatoes, pumpkins and other vegetables on their farm.
|PHOTOS BY KATHLEEN HATT.
|Wayne Mann, Grand View Farm, Canterbury, N.H., with some of his prize-winning hay.
Growing good hay
The cut and dried grass or legume plant heads, leaves and stems known as hay comes in as many varieties as there are fields and the people who mow them. The quality is determined by the leaf and seed material in the hay. The trick is to cut when the seed heads are not quite ripe and the leaf is at its best. Grazing animals—cattle, horses, goats and sheep—and pets such as guinea pigs and rabbits vary in the way they consume hay and how they digest it. Ruminants can tolerate changes in feed and the presence of mold or toxins, whereas horses (hindgut digesters) with their single-chambered stomachs cannot. Good hay, then, is in part defined by the animal eating it.
Hay at Grand View Farm is primarily orchard, brome and timothy, although a bit of the alfalfa added (together with timothy) in a no-till seeding a few years ago remains. Horse owners do not prefer alfalfa because its longer drying time promotes mold. Volunteer red clover is also present, some years more than others.
Following soil testing and the year’s second cutting, Mann generally adds a commercial 14-0-42 fertilizer at a rate of 390 pounds per acre, skipping an application every other year to save on costs. Wood ash from a wood-fired energy-producing plant was applied at the rate of 2 tons per acre in the fall of 2008 to help neutralize acidic soil. The farm’s 10 Cheviot x Dorset sheep also contribute manure as they graze portions of the fields following the second cutting.
Basic laboratory tests performed by Dairy One Forage Testing Laboratory compared Grand View Farm hay dry matter and crude protein with over 37,000 samples they tested in crop years from 2000 through 2008. The laboratory also tested crude protein, acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and minerals in samples provided by Mann. Mann submitted separate cores of first and second-cut hay taken by hay probe through the small square end of 15 bales selected at random. Near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIR) is used by Dairy One to simultaneously analyze multiple components in common forages and grains. A basic test costs less than $20.
Cutting, drying and baling
On Grand View Farm, making good hay takes three days of good weather. Mann is generally able to cut his 25 acres of hayfields just before they bloom and when they have maximum nutrients. The first cutting, sold to horse owners, is completed before it becomes “patriotic hay,” the term once used for a first cut after the Fourth of July.
The three-day haying process begins early in the morning of the first day. With a Case IH, Mann pulls a New Holland mower/conditioner. Within two or three hours of cutting, he teds the hay, spreading out the windrows left by the cutter. The afternoon of the second day, Mann rakes the hay, leaving it to dry so most of the moisture is removed, but the leafy material is still strong enough to be picked up and baled, which is usually done in the afternoon of the third day. By the end of the third day, Mann tries to have all three wagons of hay under cover.
Around the end of July, the fields are ready for a second cutting. All second-cut hay will be used in the winter to feed the farm’s sheep. From first and second-cut hay, Mann usually gets around 2,000 square bales.
Very sensitive to weather conditions, hay must be cut at the optimum time. Drought or very limited moisture can result in stunted leaves and seeds and a high ratio of coarse, dry stems of low nutritional value. Too much moisture can result in cut hay spoiling in the field before it is baled. Hay baled when too wet can develop mold and rot with the potential of forming animal-sickening toxins.
Storing hay—then and now
In Mann’s father’s time, spontaneous combustion of loose stored hay was a problem. Mann remembers his father salting the hay with grains coarser than table salt, but finer than rock salt to prevent the problem. Mann says that bales don’t tend to catch fire, especially if they are dry and have been processed correctly. Stored hay must be kept dry to prevent mold and toxins.
At Grand View Farm, hay is stored in the upper level of the barn. Hay is pulled up a ramp in wagons modified to fit modest doorway dimensions. It is then unloaded and stacked by hand.
Good hay, good markets
Mann points out that much of New Hampshire’s hay must be imported, primarily from Canada. The first year he made hay at Grand View Farm, he sold leftover hay to Pike Industries for erosion control and seeding while constructing I-93. Today, he advertises in the New Hampshire Department of Ag-riculture’s Weekly Market Bulletin when he has extra hay. Grand View Farm’s 2008 bales weighing 30 to 33 pounds (a little below the average weight for square bales, says Mann) sell for $4.50.
For more information, visit www.dairyone.com/Forage/FactSheet/ForageAnalysis.htm for the Understanding & Significance of Forage Analysis Results (pertains particularly to ruminants).
Kathleen Hatt is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Farming. She resides in Henniker, N.H.