Poor quality hay is more expensive to feed than high quality hay since the low quality hay requires extra supplementation to meet animal requirements. To spare yourself added expense next winter, your goal this summer should be to harvest high quality hay. Stage of maturity at harvest determines about 70 percent of the quality of the hay. Maturity affects the ratio of digestible leaves to indigestible stems, which determines both the nutritive content and digestibility of forages. A 1-percent increase in digestibility of warm season forage results in a 5-percent increase in animal performance.

The proper stage of growth for harvesting forages is the time when the greatest amount of total digestible nutrients per acre may be obtained. This represents the best compromise between quality and yield. The more mature a crop is at the time of harvest, the higher the yield, but the lower the quality. You have to determine what's more important for your operation, quality or yield?