LINCOLN, Neb. — Bromegrass is headed out and native meadows are beginning to grow rapidly with warmer temperatures the past couple weeks. Is now the time to make grass hay?
Sometimes a simple date on the calendar is the reason hay is cut. Some will cut when it works in their operation — after corn is fertilized or sprayed, after branding or turning out to summer grass, maybe after kids’ baseball and softball seasons are over. Tradition and schedules play a key role in management decisions, but should we consider another factor?
An important, yet often overlooked, way to determine when to cut is what quality of hay is needed on the operation. Is a protein source needed to minimize supplementation? Is simple roughage needed? Will it be sold? Can it be sold at a premium for being higher quality? Each operation is different and has different needs.
Right now the quality of bromegrass and other cool-season grasses are rapidly declining. As these plants mature and become stemmy, their protein, energy content and digestibility decrease. Studies have shown that grass hay cut at early heading could result in a daily gain of one pound for bred heifers, whereas the same mature hay may not even meet the requirements of a dry cow.
When deciding when to cut or what field to cut, first determine what livestock will consume the hay and plan accordingly.
A little change to the timing of haying might better meet livestock nutrient requirements and reduce supplementation costs.
— Brad Schick, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska-Lincoln