hay school

Hay School

Make hay while the sun shines” is a popular phrase we all know and strive for and at this year’s Hay School, it was a topic covered from almost every angle.

There were several dates hosted across the North Country and I attended the one at the Miner Institute in Chazy on March 22nd.

Straw bales in the field

Quantity vs. Quality Hay

Kitty O’Neal started us off with a question about hay cutting dates.

She challenged the practice of cutting by quantity and instead posed the alternative concept to focus on quality as the benchmark to strive for when making hay.

Obviously when one throws weather into the equation (which is hard to keep out of the conversation) the best laid plans can change in a hurry.

But for the sake of clarification, if one does omit weather for a moment, what Kitty made clear is that there are several factors where farmers can make an impact when it comes to improving both quantity and quality in hay.

The factors that we can impact for quantity are things like soil fertility and selecting forage species that are attuned to the land and climate.

When it comes to quality, forage species is important as well but cutting at the proper maturity date can make all the difference.

Kitty talked about NDF (Neutral Detergent Fiber) and how using this nutrient analysis correlates with livestock rumen and cow health.

Finding the sweet spot, for example, is 48-54% NDF and corresponds to the early bloom and late boot stage in crops like alfalfa.

She also mentioned a website, forages.org which has a forage species selection tool that helps identify what species can grow best in your area.

Kitty stressed multiple times the importance of getting the first cutting in as soon as possible.

She showed us the data and research which further backed up her claim by showing how 2nd cut grass hay protein levels are boosted when that first cut is made earlier versus later.

35-45 days between cuttings is optimal, again emphasizing a focus on quality versus quantity.

Gaining a better understanding of these factors can provide a different perspective for when and why you decide to cut hay.

Round bales of hay in the fields

Hay in a Day

The keynote speaker, and an animated one at that, was Tom Kilcer of Advanced Ag Systems.

I think it’s safe to say that he converted pretty much the whole room on the benefits of wide-swathing techniques.

Those of you with sickle bar mowers will rejoice when you hear about the extensive research that has been done in this area.

Tom showed us the data and proof that when you can provide the conditions and equipment modification to do so, wide swathing hay will increase it’s energy, it’s feed value and of course, the farm’s bottom line.

Wide swathing hinges on the idea that hay that is cut and is allowed to lay flat will dry quicker than hay that is crimped, conditioned and piled up.

Tom explained that when hay is cut it doesn’t mean that photosynthesis stops.

When laid flat, photosynthesis aids in the drying process while increasing the energy (the sugars) in the grass.

Cutting hay in this manner reduces drying time from 2-3 days to 2-3 hours.

It does take a leap of faith into switching up the equipment used and the processes involved.

Overall, it’s hard to argue with the data and I think not many of the attendees would disagree.

Tom is very easy to talk to and I’m sure very open for questions if you’re at all interested in learning more about wide-swathing hay cutting.


The Weather Man

Lastly, Gib Brown, our local WPTZ weather man, was on-hand to talk about the websites and resources the pros use when making weather predictions.

Websites like NCEP.NOAA.GOV and even paid sites like WeatherTap.com provide in-depth coverage of weather patterns.

Gib explained to us about millibars – these are the units of atmospheric pressure that he and other weather geeks get a lot of their prognostication powers from.

And it’s on websites, such NCEP.NOAA that you can get these kinds of weather prediction maps showing how high and low pressure systems will move across the region.

He spoke highly of cold fronts.

At first this may sound odd, but Gib described a cold front like a shovel.

It is made up of heavy, dense air that as it moves, scoops up the warm air before it which mixes and causes rain and thunderstorms.

It’s right after the cold front passes that farmers can get ready to cut hay because these are normally followed by several days of sunshine.


Next year, don’t bale on Hay School

Hay School was an engaging 5 hours that included a great lunch from the cafeteria at Miner’s.

Judging by the broad array of topics and knowledgeable presenters, I think you will definitely find some great nuggets of information to take away and turn into practice on your farm.


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