Managing Rained-On Hay

Managing Rained-On Hay

Handling Rained-On Hay

June 19, 2015

Rained-on hay.  Sometimes it's down so long that it's virtually worthless.  Then what do you do with it?

Rained-on hay causes many problems.  It lowers the hay's feed value and, if  baled or stacked too wet, can fost mold or heat damage. Sometimes a bigger problem, though, is the long-term damage to regrowing plants.  Driving over the field repeatedly — trying to turn hay to hasten its drying — will injure regrowth and can cause soil compaction, especially if the ground is wet and soft.

But, not driving on the field may result in an even bigger problem with the windrows.  If they lay there too long, the plants underneath will be smothered.  This not only lowers yield, it creates a terrible weed problem as grasses and broadleaves infest the killed strips.  These weeds will contaminate all future cuttings.  In addition, if rained-on hay windrows are left in the field until next cutting, they frequently will plug the mower, slow harvest, and provide lesser quality hay.

The best option is to remove wet hay any way you can.  Bale it, chop it, even blow it back on the ground as mulch.  You may need to damage plants by driving on them to turn hay to speed drying and get sunlight to plants underneath. This may contribute to a short-term loss of young plants, but will prevent wet windrows from ruining the rest of your haying year.

Then, watch for problems in the damaged strips.  Insects and weeds may invade, and then need treating to prevent further problems.

While there's no immediate payback to managing severely rained-on hay, ignoring it will be even more costly in the long run.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist

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