“Different parts of the province received anywhere from 12 mm to more than 250 mm of rain over the last few weeks,” says Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre.
He says that in the drier areas of the province, plants are in survival mode and are trying to complete their life cycle as quickly as possible. The sole purpose of plant growth is to produce seed to ensure longevity of the stand. The height of these plants are shorter so they can conserve nutrients and water, and they will mature 2 to 4 weeks sooner than when adequate moisture is available. Quality declines more rapidly with more fibre and less protein in the forage.
“Waiting to get a higher yield in this situation is not a good management practice,” he explains. “Once grasses have headed out and legumes are in the 10% to 20% flowering stage, there will be no additional growth, and plants will not grow taller.”
“For every week that cutting is delayed, protein content will drop by 1% to 2% per week. If cutting is delayed for two weeks, instead of harvesting a crop with 14% protein, it is possible that the hay protein will be in the 10% to 11% range. Crops cut late also negatively impacts energy. Total digestible nutrients (TDN) values can drop by 1.5 to 2 points per week as well. Take what there is and allow time for the plants to recover as much as possible before they go dormant.”
Over the last few weeks, some areas of the province received up to 250 mm of rain or more. Some fields are too soft for any type of equipment to be on them without cutting ruts, damaging the stand and making future field work unpleasant at best.
“In these situations, there is nothing to do but wait. Unfortunately, the plants will continue to mature and quality losses will occur,” Yaremcio adds.
In areas with less rainfall and the fields can support equipment, Yaremcio says that the questions are what to do, and when to cut the hay with these unsettled weather conditions.
“Rainfall on cut hay reduces yield and quality. Various studies have reported up to a 40% reduction in yield, especially when there is a high percentage of legume in the stand. Leaching of soluble sugars and protein causes quality loss. More damage occurs when the plants are within 1 to 2 days of baling compared to crops that are freshly cut.”
Cut hay will take longer to dry and cure with the occurrence of frequent showers and wet soil. Yaremcio says that it will be very challenging to make dry hay if the weather does not improve, but producers have some options to consider:
Make chopped silage out of the hay crops and place the material into a pit, pile or bag.
Make round bale silage and place the bales in long tubes or wrap as individual bales. “The time required between cutting and baling can be reduced from a week – or longer – to 1 to 2 days and prevents weather damage to the forage. When comparing dry hay to higher moisture product, generally the yield and quality of the high moisture product is higher.”
Yaremcio adds that making silage bales is time sensitive, and moisture should be in the 45% to 55% moisture range for the bales to be stored more than 12 months.
“If the bales are to be used this winter, moisture can be down in the 30% to 35% range. Once the bales are made, if possible, the bales should be in a tube or individually wrapped within 10 to 12 hours of being made to have proper fermentation and a high quality product.”
He says that if moisture content in the bales is higher than 55%, the bales freeze solid and the cows have difficulty eating the hay from a bale feeder. “Moisture levels above 70% impairs the fermentation process and quality is reduced. As well, there is a slight chance that listeria could be present in the silage.”