One of the few benefits of last year's disastrous weather pattern was that almost anybody could make quality hay. The humidity was super low, there were plenty of dry days, even early in the season, and there were big windows for making good hay. The only trick was raking and tedding when there was enough toughness to keep leaves from shattering and falling off.
Chris Parker, Morgan County Extension ag educator and author of Forage Notes in Indiana Prairie Farmer says that's why so much good quality hay was made early in the season last year. Once it quit raining, however, there was quality, but little quantity.
Cold and wet start to the haymaking year has unintended consequences.
Seasons like the one underway now are more common, he notes. You have to watch weather forecasts, continue to watch stage of growth of the crop and use all the information you have to decide when to cut.
When you cut may depend on the quality you're after. If you're after high quality forage, the earlier you cut the better. Volume will be reduced but quality will be top notch. The second decision may be how are you going to harvest it. If the crop gets away from you in terms of maturity, you may opt to make big round bales of the first cutting and reserve it for animals which can handle more fiber and a lower protein content.
If it stays wet you also have the option of making baleage if you have the equipment. It can typically be harvested at higher moisture content, and will ferment.
Wrapping up big round bales in plastic as baleage is the method of choice for Atom and Sally Waitt, who operate a Jersey milking herd near Sheridan. Their herd of 35 to 40 milking cows can devour a bale a day.
It's good quality forage, Sally says. Most of it is alfalfa mixed with grass. Cows go after the taste of the forage. Handling big bales and putting out one a day in a big bale feeder works well in their system, she notes.
Keep your options open as you prepare to harvest the first cutting, Parker says.