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3 Steps to Making High Quality Hay

It is commonly recommended when baling and storing hay, we should target moisture levels  of 18 to 20 percent moisture for small square bales and 14 to 16 percent moisture for larger bales. Baling drier than these recommendations can lead to excessive leaf loss and consequent loss of protein. If hay is baled wetter than these levels, an organic acid preservative should be used to minimize heating, molding, losses of dry matter and nutritive value. Organic acids (especially propionates) act by disrupting the enzymatic processes associated with plant and microbial respiration; thereby, reducing accumulation of heat and limiting loss of dry matter and reductions in nutritive value. But, what else can producers do to make high quality feed?

1. Start With a Good, Full Stand of Healthy Plants

In Quebec, the producers who typically get the best yields year after year are rotating an alternate crop in after 2 to 3 years.

2. Cut at the Proper Maturity Under Ideal Drying Conditions

Weather permitting, the ideal maturity to cut alfalfa is in the bud to 1/10th bloom stage. This maturity is the perfect blend of yield and high nutrient value. Alfalfa should be cut in the morning – leaving only 1 to 2 inches of stubble, and it should be conditioned when cut to disrupt the waxy cuticle on the stem.

To promote rapid drying, the alfalfa should be laid out in wide swaths that are at least 70 percent or greater the width of the cut row.

3. Bale the Alfalfa Quickly at Optimum Moisture Levels

Alfalfa destined for hay should be raked or merged at 40 to 60 percent moisture to minimize leaf loss.

We can control most of these steps except for the weather. Long periods of warm, rainy weather in the spring can be problematic, causing the alfalfa to mature beyond the ideal bud stage. It's also a challenge to bring in the first cutting without early season rain damaging hay while lying in the field. However, the other factors are under human control, and if we do the best we can at each phase, we are well on the way to making high value hay.

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