Pasture and Forage Minute: Options for Wet Hay Meadow, Harvesting Summer Annual Forages

To put up good quality hay from summer annual grasses like sorghum-sudan hybrids, remember this motto: "Cut it early, cut it high. Crimp the stems and they will dry." (CropWatch file photo)

Pasture and Forage Minute: Options for Wet Hay Meadow, Harvesting Summer Annual Forages

2022 Nebraska Grazing Conference

By Daren Redfearn

Do you want to learn more about grassland conservation, invasive species and grazing management? Make plans now to attend the 2022 Nebraska Grazing Conference in Kearney at the Younes Convention Center on Aug. 9 and 10.

A field tour kicks of the conference on Tuesday, Aug. 9 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Cottonwood and Linder Waterfowl Production Areas located near Bertrand, Nebraska. Topics include conservation and grazing livestock management. There is no fee to attend the field tour.

Sessions on Tuesday afternoon include speakers presenting information on grazing lands topics related to conservation, collaborative adaptive management, and Old World bluestem, a relatively new invasive species in Nebraska.

On Tuesday evening, we will host a banquet with Steve Kenyon from Alberta, Canada as the featured speaker.

The conference will conclude on Wednesday, Aug. 10 with sessions on grazing systems and wildlife management.

Sponsor and exhibitor booths will showcase new programs, equipment and products to conference participants. 

More specific info on the conference is available on the Center for Grassland Studies website under the News & Events tab.

We look forward to seeing you in person on Aug. 9 and 10 at the Younes Convention Center in Kearney, Nebraska.

Wet Hay Meadow Options

By Brad Schick

Depending on where you are in the state, your meadows may be wet or bone dry and the grass is short. Many have already harvested their meadows while others are just getting started. 

Subirrigated meadows in some parts of the state remain too wet to hay, while most have had a good window to put it up for the first time in two or three years. If the cool-season grasses are short this year because of the challenging spring, they still may be high quality. As the summer progresses and the plants become more mature, the quality of the standing hay continues to decrease.

In the Sandhills, hay cut on Aug. 1 had a crude protein content of 6.4% but can vary by year. Grazing in the winter may be the only option for wet meadows. Temporary fence and water may be another cost, but there will be no expense of putting up the hay. This also eliminates the risk of damaging the meadow from equipment or risking bales sitting in water until winter. Dry cows can do well during the winter grazing mature meadows and may only require some protein supplementation to maintain body condition.

What if the hay can get put up but it’s put up late, resulting in low quality hay? Regrowth after an early August cutting was measured in September and the regrowth contained 16.5% crude protein. This is a great grazing option for weaned calves or even dry cows, if stocked correctly. 

More meadows are being hayed this year than the last few years. With meadows that remain wet, these options may work better every year for an operation. 

Harvesting Summer Annual Forages

By Jerry Volesky

It can be a little tricky to put up good quality hay from summer annual grasses like sorghum-sudan hybrids, pearl millet and forage sorghums. Here are some tips to help make sure these types of hay are of good quality and that hay is dry and will not heat or mold.

Nearly all problems making good summer annual grass or cane hay are caused by their stems. Stems are low in protein and energy, unbearably slow to dry and the lower stems could contain potentially toxic nitrates.

There usually is a wide range of spring and early summer planting dates for these annuals but cutting early before plants become excessively tall is important. When cut at about four feet in height, stems are smaller, they’re eaten more readily, and the hay contains more protein and energy. Also, there is less plant volume. So, with smaller stems and fewer of them, the hay will dry quicker. Although you will have less tonnage when cutting early, you are creating more days for regrowth and a good second cutting.

Regardless of when you harvest though, cut it high, leaving eight to 10 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 harvesting them all in your hay.

And finally, always crimp the hay. Even when stems are small, the waxy coating on the stems cause slow drying. But if you break open these stems by crimping, water will be able to escape and evaporate more quickly.

So cut it early, cut it high. Crimp the stems and they will dry.  

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