Rain is a two-edged sword for hay producers in Indiana this year. On one hand, it's favorable. Ample rainfall helps boost yields, especially on thick, well-fertilized fields that are ready to take advantage of good growing conditions. But on the flip side, rainy periods interfere with haymaking schedules. Especially if you're growing a legume, likely alfalfa, you need to mow on a fairly rigorous schedule to get maximum tonnage before the growing season winds down.
Nearly every sample of second-cutting alfalfa hay that 4-H'ers brought in for judging at the Franklin County fair in Brookville last week looked similar. I know that since I judged their crop exhibits this year. Without lab results to determine feed value, you're guessing. But the best guess boils down to a ration of stems vs. leaves. The more leaves in the higher, the higher the protein content, nearly every time.
Most of the samples had a good, greed color, but stems dominated your first view. Once you reached inside and pulled out some hay, there were a good number of leaves. But the stems no doubt dominated because the second cutting was delayed by one to two weeks do to rainy conditions. Most of these samples were baled the first week of July. Most first-cutting hay in Indiana was made in the May 15 to 25 window, especially in southern Indiana. So instead of cutting at 30 to 35 days, some were stretched out to 40 to 45 days before the second cutting could be made.
When that happens, hay winds up with more stem content, and more of the hay has bloomed. That indicates a later stage of maturity, which usually means a product with more stems and lower feed value. Many recommend cutting alfalfa in the early bloom stage. Second cutting typically ahs smaller diameter stems than first-cutting, although based on these samples, that wasn't necessarily the case this year.
There were differences in the amount of leaves I pulled out of bales. That's what I made decisions upon, with the samples with the most leaves generally getting higher placings. The amount of leaves may depend upon when the hay was raked or tedded. If hay is raked with dew on or just as it dries off, it tends to retain more leaves than if hay is rakes when the forge is dry.
Various combinations of time of cutting and whether or not the crop was tedded can also determine if the sample has plenty of leaves. Continued rain may make good volume for a third cutting. But hay growers will need a break tot get the hay cut on time to guarantee a third cutting with high-protein content.