Mother Nature has not been very cooperative with farmers thus far this spring as rainfall has slowed field activities in many portions of the state. Corn and soybean planting are running behind schedule and it appears that first cutting hay harvest is going to lag behind schedule as well. Even with the relatively cool temperatures seen around the state, forage growth is advancing and in southern Ohio grasses can be commonly seen heading out.
Beef producers should recognize the value of forages in their operations. Beef animals are ruminants and are designed to function on adequate supplies of good quality forage. While all feedstuffs are relatively expensive these days, forages provide us our best opportunity for reasonable production costs. Forages are certainly more cost-effective when they are grazed when compared to mechanical harvest. However, Ohio winters necessitate a certain amount of harvested forages to maintain beef animals through challenging conditions.
I am sure that hay harvest will begin soon if the weather permits. Hay making can be a delicate art of balancing quality and quantity. We certainly want to achieve high yields from every acre we harvest, but the forage plant itself gives us the best indication as to when to harvest. When a forage plant exhibits a seed head or bloom, it is time to harvest. From the time the heads begin to emerge in the grasses, digestibility decreases approximately one-half percentage unit per day. In the case of legumes, digestibility is also reduced by one-third to one-half percentage unit each day following the development of flower buds.
There is a great deal of management that goes into a successful hay crop. Much thought goes into variety selection, the fertility program, weed control, and harvest. However, I would contend that we typically do a less than adequate job of planning on how we are going to store the hay crop.
The invention of the large round baler provided producers an efficient method to harvest large numbers of acres in a short time with a minimal amount of labor. Large round bales certainly reduced the amount of time required to feed hay in the winter. However, with this added convenience associated with large round bales, I believe we have seen a reduction in the amount of attention paid to storage of the crop.
A fact sheet from the University of Kentucky outlines the potential losses associated from a variety of storage systems. "Round Bale Hay Storage in Kentucky" can be found at the following link: http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/agr/agr171/agr171.pdf. The dry matter losses associated with a variety of storage systems listed in the publication area as follows: Conventional shed: 4-7%; Pole structure with plastic roof on pad : 4-7%; Reusable tarp on pad: 4-7%; Bale sleeve on ground: 4-7%; Plastic wrap on ground: 4-7%; Elevated stack on pad (rock plus filter fabric): 13-17%; Net wrap on ground: 15-25%; Stacked on ground: 25-35%.