Optimizing Production from Perennial Cool-Season Hayfields

IMG_7282How we manage hayfields this spring can have a major impact on both yield and nutritive value.  Fertilization and timely cutting are even more critical when we need to refill hay barns after a hard winter.  The following tips will help you to optimize hay production this spring from cool-season hayfields.

  • Fertilize and lime according to soil test. A balanced fertility program is essential for optimizing hay production.  Phosphorus, potassium, and lime should be applied according to soil test results.  Avoid using “complete” fertilizers such as 19-19-19.  These fertilizers commonly over apply P and under apply K when harvesting hay.
  • Apply nitrogen early to promote rapid spring growth.  Applying 60-80 lb N/A in mid- to late March will promote early growth in hay fields, resulting in higher first harvest yields.
  • Harvest at the boot stage. Hayfields should be mowed as soon as the grass reaches the boot-stage.  By making the first cutting in a timely manner, there will be time for a leafy second cutting just prior to the summer heat. Do not cut close.  If not properly adjusted, disc mowers cut very close to the soil surface and this causes significant damage to cool-season grass stands.  Do NOT mow perennial cool-season grass stands closer than 3-4 inches.
  • Apply nitrogen following the first cutting. Following a timely first harvest, apply 40-60 lb N/A to stimulate regrowth.  With adequate rainfall, a second harvest can be made approximately 30 days after the first harvest.
  • Allow hayfields to go into summer with some regrowth. Make sure allow cool-season hayfields to go into the summer months with at least 5-6 inches of regrowth.  This will shade the crown of the plant, shade the soil inhibiting annual grass weeds, reduce soil temperature, and reduce soil moisture losses.
  • Apply nitrogen in late summer. As temperatures moderate in late summer and early fall, apply 50-60 lb N/A to stimulate fall growth.  This growth can be grazed or harvested as needed.
  • Allow plants time to replenish carbohydrates in the fall. Make sure and time fall hay cuttings to allow stand to regrow and replenish their carbohydrates prior to winter dormancy.

~ Chris Teutsch, excerpted from April issue of Cow Country News “Filling the Hay Barn Back Up,” available online.