The early maturity of our forages this year may dictate that they be harvested 10 days to two weeks ahead of normal in order to maintain quality. Regardless, we will be at the mercy of Mother Nature and whatever weather she offers us at the time forage maturity dictates it's time to make hay.
University of Wisconsin Extension Forage Agronomist Dan Undersander says in his recent fact sheet that if we understand and use the biology and physics of forage drying properly, not only does the hay dry faster and have less chance of being rained on, but the total digestible nutrients (TDN) of the harvested forage are higher. Specifically, Undersander offers 3 key recommendations:
1. Put cut forage into a wide swath at cutting that covers at least 70% of the cut area.
2. For haylage: If drying conditions are good, rake multiple swaths into a windrow just before chopping (usually 5 to 7 hours later).
3. For hay: If drying conditions are good, merge/rake multiple swaths into a windrow the next morning after mowing (when forage is 40 to 60 % moisture) to avoid leaf loss.
For more detail on getting hay harvested efficiently, see Undersander's "Focus on Forage" fact sheet entitled, Field Drying Forage for Hay and Haylage. For additional detail, you may also want to review the University of Wisconsin publication, "Best Practices to Hasten Field Drying of Grasses and Alfalfa" which Undersander also contributed to.
Coming off of the wettest year in recorded Ohio history, I heard lots of discussion last winter regarding alternatives for harvesting and storing forages this year. Last December at the 2011 Buckeye Shepherds Symposium Dr. Bill Weiss of the OSU Animal Science Department gave a presentation on making and storing forages for ruminants. The session was recorded and is available on-line. It covers nearly all of the considerations for harvesting and storing forages in order to maintain the highest quality possible. Forages are expensive to grow, expensive to harvest, and become even more expensive if not stored and fed properly.
If you plan to mechanically harvest any forage this year, in addition to reviewing the publications linked above, set aside 45 minutes of your time, follow this link, and review this presentation . . . it will be time well spent! http://go.osu.edu/storingforages
Source: Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County OSU Extension