The Value of Cutting Hay Earlier

We all know that cutting hay earlier is almost always better. That is, as long as you can cut it without it getting rained on. The following is taken from a recent article by Dr. Jimmy Henning summarizing the value of earlier hay cutting. His justification comes from the UK College of Ag publication ‘Quality Hay Production’ (AGR-62) that shows the impact that stage of harvest has on fescue hay  forage quality and animal gain (Table 1).

PS - Hardin Hay Day JCH_6286Tennessee research compared three fescue hays cut May 3, May 14 and May 25 (these dates would be slightly later in KY). The dates corresponded to late boot/early head, early bloom, and early milk stage/seed forming, respectively. These hays were then fed to 500 lb. holstein heifers. The heifers ate more of the early cut hay, 13 lb/day compared to 11.7 and 8.6 for later cut hay.

Early cut hay had the highest digestibility and crude protein. The drop in digestibility was small between May 2 and May 14, but much larger over the next 11 day period. Crude protein dropped about the same (about 3 percentage units) for each 11 day delay.

Gain per day ranged from 1.39 to 0.42 lb/day for the three hays. The earliest cut hay supported the best gains, as expected. The decline in average daily gain was about the same for each 11 day delay in cutting.

Maturity decreased average daily gain much more than forage digestibility. A delay of 22 days dropped digestibility by 17% (68 to 56%).  Over this same period, daily gain dropped by 70% (1.39 to 0.42 lb/day). Small changes in quality made big differences in gain. Although the forage yield was lower in the early cut hay, there were 22 extra days of forage growth compared to the May 25 cutting. Enough growth to virtually guarantee a high quality second cutting or grazing before the heat of summer.  Cutting hay early pays, especially for growing cattle. And small differences in maturity can make big differences in gain and your bottom line.

~ Dr. Jimmy Henning from Farmers Pride.

Table 1. Effect of stage of harvest of fescue hay on forage quality and animal gain.*
Stage of harvest, date of cutting Dry matter intake lb/day Percent digestibility Percent protein Feed efficiency, lb hay fed per lb of gain Yield, lb per acre Gain, lb per day
Late boot to head, May 3 13.0 68 13.8 10.1 1334 1.39
Early bloom stage, May 14 11.7 66 10.2 13.5 1838 0.97
Early milk stage – seed forming, May 25 8.6 56 7.6 22.5 2823 0.42
*Holstein heifers were used, average weight – 500 lb.

Source: University of Tennessee, reported in AGR-62, Quality Hay Production, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.