Harvesting Summer Annual Grasses for Hay

Harvesting Summer Annual Grasses for Hay July 15, 2016

It is difficult to put up good quality hay – hay that is dry and will not heat or mold – from summer annual grasses like sorghum-sudan hybrids, pearl millet, and forage sorghums.  Obviously, this type of hay, which is also called cane hay, is challenging to bale or stack for most growers, mostly due to its stems.

Stems are low in protein and energy, unbearably slow to dry, and lower stems contain most of the potentially toxic nitrates.

To solve some problems, cut early, when plants are only waist high.  When cut early, stems are smaller, they’re eaten more readily, and the hay contains more protein and energy.  Also, there is less plant volume.  With smaller and fewer stems, the hay will dry quicker.

Regardless of when you harvest, cut it high, leaving eight to ten inches of stubble.  Tall stubble pays off three ways – it helps plants begin regrowth quicker, it holds hay off the ground so air can help dry underneath, and it keeps many nitrates out in the field stubble rather than in your harvested hay.

And finally, always crimp cane hay.  Even when stems are small, the waxy coating on the stems causes slow drying.  Crimping allows water to escape and stems to dry down more rapidly.