EAST TEXAS - This past year was certainly a tough one for stockmen producing hay. We were either too dry, too wet, or were getting the entire field eaten up by reoccurring waves of armyworms.
When baling hay, producers are always working to balance top hay quality against top hay yields. They can’t have it both ways. The best quality hay comes from young tender growth. The most volume comes from older, more fibrous grasses that will be lower in quality. When you hear a hay baler brag about a tremendous number of bales, you got to wonder how much quality they were sacrificing.
High quality hay has more nutritional value and that increased value translates into better livestock performance. The hard fact is that regardless of the quality of hay baled, there are fixed costs of equipment, diesel, twine/wrap and labor. The equipment, diesel, wrap and labor all costs the same regardless of what quality hay you are putting up.
Harvesting hay with a short time frame between each cutting will certainly lead to higher quality hay, whereas waiting longer between cuttings will increase the yield. But this increased yield will have a much higher fiber content. This increased fiber is less digestible.
Deciding how often to cut and bale hay will always be a compromise between quality or quantity. Waiting longer between cuttings will certainly increase the volume of hay and that may give folks bragging rights. But bragging about volume, at the expense of quality, doesn’t put weight on calves.
An often quoted bit of advice comes from some old research conducted on Coastal Bermuda hay. The advice, and research, is that 28 days between cuttings was the ideal compromise for balancing quantity and quality. That seems straightforward enough. It is. But that only applies to Coastal Bermuda.
While we can assume that the research would be very similar for other varieties of Bermuda hay, the fact is that a significant portion of the hay baled in this area is Bahia. And Bahia matures much quicker than Bermuda. Everyone who gets frustrated from mowing their lawn and then see the Bahia seed heads quickly reappear, knows this all too well.
Yet, I’ve not found the research that demonstrates what the “ideal” time frame for Bahia.
Looking ahead to this season’s production, producers need to get back to the fundamentals and be very conservative in estimating production.
First, if we don’t control weeds, we don’t maximize hay production. It’s been repeated numerous times that for every pound of weeds you control, you gain a pound of hay. As good as that sounds, I’ve seen research that would estimate that you’ll get more than just one pound of extra hay for each pound of weeds.
Knowing which the names and habits of weeds is also crucial. Goatweed, for example, is one of our most common and notorious problems. In other parts of the state, it is called Doveweed. However the common name listed on many herbicide labels is Wooly Croton. Yes, we are spraying for Wooly Croton or perhaps another Croton such as tropical Croton.
Goatweed will typically start to grow in early June. Treating for it late April or early May is wasting time because the weeds haven’t germinated typically until early June. Treating it in late summer when it is a couple feet high is also wasting time because they have done the damage and have most likely set seed for the next year.
Bottom line, controlling weeds should be of primary importance for improving your hay production. Weeds are thieves in your hay meadow and you should have the tools to stop them. First calibrate your sprayer so you know how much you are putting out on each acre. Secondly, be prepared with an herbicide plan.