Garry Lacefield, University of Kentucky Forage Specialist, speaks at various forage functions. One thing he likes to do at field days is set out some flakes of hay and have those in the audience rank them for quality. Most choose the greenest flakes with the fewest weeds and stems that were cut at the right stage.
Many times they are wrong and that’s one of the points he likes to make. Just because it “looks” and “smells” good doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the most nutritious. You have to test for that.
Making hay this year was a real challenge. It stayed “spring” for most of the summer. The cool weather was nice but the rain every couple days made it impossible to cut and bale hay without it getting rained on at least once.
I’ve talked to very few farmers that actually managed to get a field baled without getting wet. There’s even one who routinely cuts his alfalfa right before a rain knowing it’s going to get wet one way or another and it’s better to get rained on while green than after it’s started to dry. This same farmer routinely wins state forage awards for his hay quality too.
Don’t get me wrong about color and smell though. They are an indicator that the hay was properly cured and stored. It probably wasn’t rained on and thus will have less mold and be more palatable. Rain affects legumes (alfalfa and clovers) more than grasses in general. Rain leaches out the nutrients and the drier it is when it rains the worse the effects.
A lot of the time we’re tempted to bale before the crop has finished curing in an attempt to beat the rain. Sometimes this works but many times there are problems. We discussed hay fires earlier this year. Short of a disaster like that there are other things that can go wrong with high moisture hay.
A musty odor from mold is often a byproduct of wet hay. This can decrease palatability and animal intake will go down. Hay that heats up but not enough to burn can caramelize. It will turn tan or brown or even black. The animals will like the sweet taste but it has lost much of its nutritive value.
So, we know we can’t really judge the quality of our hay by looks alone. Plus we know that much of it got rained on. So how do we know if the hay will meet the animal’s needs and how much we need to supplement? Test it.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture offers a great deal to find out the quality of your hay or haylage. Most of you have met KDA’s Kim Fields or seen the KDA Hay Test trailer at our Field Days. For $10 they will come out and sample a lot, test it and then mail you the results.
Their website is at http://www.kyagr.com/marketing/Forage-Program.html and their number is 800-248-4628. Give them a call to schedule a hay testing. For those of you do-it-yourselfers you can sample your lot of hay (multiple random samples like soil testing) and mail it off to a forage lab like Dairy One, http://www.dairyone.com/, which can also test silage.
Once you have the results we can determine a ration based on the animals you’re feeding, the quality of your hay and the commodity feeds you would like to use. Otherwise, you’re just guessing.