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Kemin Animal Nutrition & Health – North America
In 2018, Canadian hay producers exported an estimated 906,000 metric tons of hay with a value of $160 million.1 While the largest destination was the USA, hay is increasingly leaving Canada bound for China, Japan and the Middle East. Producers who can provide premium hay for these markets enjoy significantly higher prices for their crop.
One well known tool used to improve the quality of their hay is the application of organic acids like propionic acid. Because organic acids help control the growth of mold, producers may bale hay with a moisture percentage of over 20% and reduce the concerns of mold spoilage and spontaneous heating. Oftentimes, spontaneous heating is measured using heating degree days (HDD), which is like the growing degree day concept. Baling moist hay is often a compromise between a risk of bale heating and retaining more leaves.
Research conducted in Wisconsin on high moisture hay2 showed there was a clear application-rate effect in which bales treated with the 1.0% application rate (10 kg per ton of hay) accumulated only 30% of the HDD exhibited by untreated hays. In the same experiment, hays were offered to growing lambs to assess total-tract digestibility. Hay baled at 24% moisture and treated with organic acids showed significantly (P < 0.01) better apparent digestibility for dry matter and organic matter.
A common question asked, “Can we use propionic acid on exported hay?” The short answer is yes; however, acid-treated hay requires different handling and management.
The reason organic acids are used on hay is to prevent mold growth when hay is baled at 20-25% moisture. This moist hay still requires time to cure in storage. If bales are stored too tight or in a closed environment, they will require significantly more time to dry and could result in hay fires. When storing hay in a barn or outdoors, do not stack acid-treated hay more than five tiers high until the hay has gone through the curing process. After the bales have dried, more tiers can be added to the stack without fire danger.
Before marketing the hay, check the bale moisture content by using a hay moisture probe. To measure moisture, use a probe that can be inserted at least 12 inches into the bale. Probe at least 20 different bales and monitor the hay daily. Depending on the moisture of the bales, dry-down could take three to six weeks before the hay is marketed.
Organic acids have been successfully used for decades to help producers manage their hay crop. The application of propionic and other acids allows producers to bale hay up to 25% moisture. Higher moisture hay retains more valuable leaves, the most nutritious part of the alfalfa plant. By making small modifications to the hay marketing calendar, producers who export hay can enjoy significant price premiums associated with high value hay.
1Data Source: Statistics Canada https://www.ic.gc.ca/app/scr/tdst/tdo/crtr.html;jsessionid=00019a3UWkZQzUZzFgc_S3tO3tu:37QBRTNSIB?lang=eng&hSelectedCodes=11194&searchType=BL&productType=NAICS¤cy=CDN&runReport=true&grouped=GROUPED&toFromCountry=CDN&naArea=9999&timePeriod=5%7CComplete%2BYears&reportType=TE&countryList=ALL
2Coblentz, W. K. ; Grabber, J. H., 2013. In situ protein degradation of alfalfa and birdsfoot trefoil hays and silages as influenced by condensed tannin concentration. J. Dairy Sci., 96 (5): 3120-3137
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