What is your Hay Outlook for the Year? by: Jordan Penrose, Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, Morgan County


With first cutting progressing across the state, now is the time to evaluate your hay outlook for the year. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you are evaluating. How have your yields been? What do you think your next cutting will look like? Do you have any leftover hay from years before? By asking yourself these questions you are going to come to one of three conclusions, you are right on track, you have an abundant supply, or you have a low supply. Let’s look at some options that you could have if have an abundant or low supply of hay. Because the time to plan is now, the earlier you plan the more options that you will have available to you.

Abundant Supply of Hay

Having an abundant supply of hay is a good problem to have. But what do you do with the extra hay that you won’t use? Do you keep it, or would you like to make a profit? The first thing that may come to mind is to sell your extra hay. Selling hay can be easy or hard depending on what the market looks like around you. What is the quality of that hay, and what about all the inputs that were put into making that hay? You could also go with more of a long-term investment by buying more livestock, to use your extra hay. One thing to make sure of though is if you are grazing livestock during the year when you are not feeding hay, is that your pastures can withstand the extra livestock. Another alternative to making the extra hay is to graze the hayfields, this may take some creative thinking because you may not have easy water access, fencing around the field, or an easy way to get the animals to the field. But it is generally three times more expensive to feed an animal stored forage than to make them graze it. One thing to be aware of if grazing a hayfield is pugging, where the animal is leaving hoof imprints in the field. Also, make sure to not let the animals overgraze the field because that could potentially harm the stand going forward.

Low Supply of Hay

Depending on the time of the year, you could have many options to handle having a low supply of hay. You could buy the hay that you need to make up for your short supply, or you could sell some livestock, I bet these are the first two that come to mind. But if you look at your outlook early enough you still have other options. You could graze corn stalks, stockpile fields, graze hayfields, plant something, or do a combination of these. If you are not getting enough hay out of your hayfields, as you have before, or what you think you should be getting, you may want to soil test your fields to check their fertility.

If you have access to corn stalks, they can provide energy and crude protein. Cattle and sheep eat the grain first, then the husk and leaf, and finally the cob and stalks. If you want to maximize the quality of those corn stalks in the field, quality is highest in the first 60 days. Stockpiling is also a great option because it can take very minimal effort on your part, but that depends on your situation. If your pastures are producing well enough, you could take a field or two out of your grazing rotation. The date when you start to stockpile is a compromise between quantity and quality. Late July to early August is a good target date, but some factors are rain and what will the forage utilization be with your livestock. You could also add around 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre to increase quality and yield. The sooner you graze, the greater the quality but less quantity, and the opposite the longer you wait. Now if you do not have a field that you take out of your pasture rotation, you could graze your hayfields after you have taken your last cutting of hay off, and you add them to your rotation, and you could even stockpile a field or two to graze later. This would be very similar to grazing hay fields as I talked about in the abundant supply of hay section. Just make sure the weather is in your favor. This could be a nice option, as most hayfields will probably have had some sort of growth to them after your last cutting by the time you go graze them. When it comes to planting there are many options that you could go with, like brassicas. Brassicas are a good option for summer to grow extra feed fast, forage turnips around 60 days you have max quality, and at 90 days you have max yield. Some potential issues that you could run into are that high nitrate levels are possible, toxic compounds when flowering, and low fiber levels. Brassicas work best when grazed with small grains or stockpiled fescue. You can also plant summer annual grasses like, sudangrass, pearl millet, sorghum-sudangrass, or teff grass. With the summer annual grasses, you could get a cutting or maybe two for hay or haylage, then have the chance to graze it. Be on the watch for a frost as fall approaches with your summer annual grasses because some contain cyanogenic glucosides, which are converted to prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) when the plants are damaged by frost and could make livestock severely ill or cause death.