Pasture and Forage Minute: Monitoring Hay Quality and Pests, Early Cornstalk Harvest
Testing Hay Quality
Do you know the quality of the hay or silage that you harvested this past season? It is important to know how much protein and energy your cows will get when you start feeding, or how much supplement to feed. Find out by following instructions for sampling and testing.
Maybe the most important step in sampling hay is deciding which bales and stacks should be included in each sample. Ideally, each sample should include only bales that were produced under similar conditions.
Obviously, the place to start grouping is to separate different types of hay, like alfalfa or CRP or cornstalk or meadow hay. But each cutting of hay probably is different from the other cuttings also, so there is another separation. And no two fields or meadows are ever exactly the same, especially if they were cut more than several days apart — this makes another grouping. And what if part of the field was rained on before it was baled? The hay made without rain damage will likely be different from hay with rain damage.
After you’ve made all these separations — which could result in quite a few groups of similar bales — then, and only then, are you ready to sample. From each group, gather a dozen or more cores from different bales or stacks and combine them into one sample. Be sure to use a good hay probe that can core into at least 12 to 18 inches into the bale.
Finally, send these samples to a certified lab for tests of crude protein and energy content. With the drought conditions of this past year, testing any annual forages or salvaged dryland crops for nitrates is a good idea.
Then use this information to feed your cattle as profitably as possible.
Check Imported Hay
Are you looking to buy hay? Can’t find anything local? When you finally do find hay, don’t bring undesired pests to your farm or ranch along with that imported hay.
Hay is expensive this fall and very hard to find. You may be looking out-of-state or even out-of-country to find hay for this winter.
Whenever you bring hay from another location onto your land, you also run the risk of bringing any pests onto your land that were in the distant hayfield. If hay comes from someone close by, you probably won’t bring in anything you don’t already have. But when hay comes from a long distance, you can get pests that are new or extra hard to control.
So, what should you look for? It could be any number of things, but some examples might be sericea lespedeza and old-world bluestems from Kansas, endophyte-infected fescue from Missouri, or absinthe wormwood from North Dakota and South Dakota. Even with more local hay, a clean pasture may suddenly be infected with leafy spurge or Canada thistle.
These examples all are weeds, but hay can also carry other pests. For example, it might contain alfalfa weevils from just about anywhere, or fire ants from Texas. Fire ants won’t survive a typically harsh Nebraska winter, but if it’s mild and the hay is well-sheltered, they could be a problem for a season or two.
I don’t mean to suggest that all hay from these areas will carry problem pests. Lots of very good hay is made in these areas. But how do you reduce the risk of acquiring these pests?
Begin by asking questions. Find out what pests are a problem in that area. Check references. Reserve the right to refuse the hay after it arrives and you’ve check it out thoroughly. Then, when you feed the hay, do it only in a small area. That way, if a problem does develop, you can keep it isolated and hopefully controllable.
Early Harvest for Early Cornstalks
With many pastures short, high hay prices, and drought-stressed crops maturing more quickly, harvesting some corn a little early could provide cornstalks for grazing or baling.
Even with parts of the state catching some much-needed rain recently, pastures are short, some are dormant and most probably won’t recover like we think they will. The added pressure on pastures this summer is not good for them, even if we get good moisture this fall. Pastures need a break to recover and allow some important sugar storage in order to overwinter and have good growth and spring green-up next year.
Although this option can’t work for everyone, harvesting some corn a little early and utilizing earlier stalks will help relieve pressure on pastures. In addition, the earliest stalks typically have the highest protein and energy to either improve body condition of dry cows or keep growing calves at least for a while before supplementation is needed.
One of the biggest concerns with putting out to stalks during harvest is the time and labor needed to put up fence and situate the water. Although it takes away from harvest, it might be better for the cows and for the pasture they won’t overgraze.
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