Wet weather causes problems at hay harvest. That's not news or rocket science, but it definitely describes what's happening to hay growers this year. While the rain means there is ample forage to cut, the problem is getting it cut on time, and then baled properly for good storage.
Keith Johnson, Purdue University forage specialist, says what's as bad for haymaking as the rain this year to date is the humidity. It's difficult to cure hay for proper baling when conditions are very humid.
He noted this may be a year to consider using preservatives if you need to bale hay at wetter moisture contents than normal, or else check out some methods of storage that allow you to make hay at higher moisture levels.
Nutrients are lost when hay gets too mature waiting in the field to be cut. It also becomes lower on nutrients, in general, when it can't be cured properly in the field. Typically, second and third cuttings of legumes or mixed hay feature small stem-size and more leaves, leading to higher protein content than first-cutting. Some are finding that's hard to achieve this year.
Nearly 50 4-H'ers brought hay to the Morgan County fair one evening last week for judging. The hay reflected the type of year it's been. Several samples were acceptable, but hardly any had the bright green color and amount of leafiness that usually pushes hay to 20% protein, needed for lactating diary cows. Fortunately, the 4-H'ers said most of it was going to be fed to beef cattle or dry dairy cattle. They don't need as high protein levels to survive.
Another factor plaguing hay samples were weeds, especially buckhorn plantain and giant foxtail. Normally found in the yard, buckhorn plantain can literally take over in a hay field, especially if it's mostly grass and the field is growing a bit thin in spots anyway. Weeds detract from feed value if they're plentiful within the bale.
Another problem surfaced in these hay samples. One set from the same farm consisted of brownish legume hay. While there was some greener hay and leaves inside, there was also a musty odor. In fact, a powdery mold exited the bale if you felt in the middle of the flake. While it may be suitable fed to certain animals, it's probably not a hay you would want to feed to pregnant sheep or dairy cows.