This is not only a tough and strange year for corn and soybean producers, it's also a tough year for hay producers, whether you're making hay for your own animals or to sell to someone else.
The first cutting tended to be made late, past prime on maturity, especially in alfalfa. This tends to results in rank growth which may have more stems and less leaves than you might normally expect. Feeding value should still be good on pure alfalfa, however.
Chris Parker, Morgan County Extension ag educator, believes the best policy is to test hay every year to know exactly what nutrient content it contains. He typically uses a probe, available at many extension offices, to bore into several bales. Then he mixes the cores into one sample and sends it to a commercial lab for forage analysis. Samples typically cost $10 to $15 to run.
The results will reveal protein content, amount of fiber and relative feed value. For relative feed value, the base is 100. Hays above that mark should let many animals perform well. The highest values are often the hay you would want to set aside or sell to someone with lactating animals. The lower testing hays are still usually sufficient to sustain dry cows in dairy and beef cattle through the winter.
The second cutting was also made late in many cases as the rain continued through June in many areas. It simply wasn't possible to cut the hay at the ideal stage, which is about 10% bloom for alfalfa and boot stage for grass. As a result, even many of the second-cutting hay samples that parker has seen contain more stems than usual. Fiber content may be high, but if the hay was harvested correctly, often with tedding and raking while he hay was still not so dry that it promoted leaf shattering, those hay types could still test relatively well.
Both the first and second cuttings were of ample quantity due to all the rain that promoted growth. Much of the first cutting was round-baled, partly because it was more rank, partly to get it up before it rained again.
So whether there will be a hay shortage or not depends upon who you talk to. With the sudden switch to dry weather, third and fourth cuttings of legume hay may be short on quantity. However, since the first two cuttings were plentiful, there should be enough hay, or at least that's what many hay growers believe right now. Finding the quality you want might be a tougher challenge.