Remove Hay Bales Soon After Harvest

Remove Hay Bales Soon After Harvest

August 8, 2008

My recent travels through Nebraska showed me lots of hay. Much of it was being cut, but much of it was still in the middle of the field.

Bales and stacks of hay left in fields have to be removed sometime. After the final cutting for the year, it may not matter too much if they remain for a while, but when more harvests are expected from that field, delaying removal can be harmful.

One problem is directly under the bale or stack. Plants underneath often are killed if covered for more than a week or two. This may not hurt yield too much, but it makes for a great place for weeds to get started and then spread.

Most of the damage, though, is due to wheel traffic on the regrowth. Studies have shown that when fields are dry, plants driven on prior to regrowth will yield about 5% to 7% less at the next cutting. Even worse is waiting to remove bales. Just seven days after cutting, when regrowth shoots have started to grow, yield is reduced over 25% and survival of these plants also is less.And worse yet is removing bales when fields are wet. Then wheel traffic causes much more compaction. When this happens, yield loss typically exceeds 30%.

These studies emphasize the benefits of baling and removing bales from hay fields as quickly as possible after cutting as well as minimizing driving on wet soils. They also suggest that following the same trail when removing bales or stacks from fields can reduce losses from wheel tracks by limiting the total area damaged.

Hay fields must be driven on, of course, to remove bales after harvest. But you can lessen damage by controlling where, when and how often you drive.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist