Reasons to Cut Hay Early

Most of our Kentucky hay comes from first cuttings of cool season grasses. This hay is often harvested late, sometimes very late, for a variety of reasons. Weather can derail the best of hay plans, but cutting on time remains the biggest way to improve forage quality. The point of this article is not to simply restate what most of you already know about the optimum stage to cut hay. The point is simply this – cut earlier than last year.

Many farm duties and the unpredictable weather delay first cuttings of hay resulting in low quality hay. In past years, tobacco took priority over hay harvest as in the picture above due to the clear financial benefit. But cutting hay earlier has clear benefits also. Photo by Dr. Jimmy Henning

Here are six reasons to cut hay early.

These reasons are based on a Tennessee study comparing three fescue hays cut May 3, May 14 and May 25. These 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.

1) Intake is greater. The heifers ate more of the early cut hay, 13 lb/day compared to 11.7 and 8.6 for later cut hays.

2) Early cut hay had the highest digestibility and crude protein.

3) Performance is greater Gain per day ranged from 1.39 to 0.42 lb/day for the three hays. The earliest cut hay supported the best gains.

4) Small differences in digestibility have large improvements in animal gains. Maturity decreased gains per day much more than forage digestibility. A delay in cutting of twenty two days dropped digestibility by 17% (68 to 56%) but lowered daily gain dropped by 70% (1.39 to 0.42 lb/day).

5) Cutting on time sets up a second cutting opportunity. Hopefully this will come during better weather in June or early July.

6) Gain comes faster on early cut hay. If you calculate how long it would take to equal gains on each hay, you arrive at 95, 140 and 298 days respectively. Hay cut on May 25 could produce the same gain as hay cut on May 3 but it would take twice as much hay and three times as long!

Cutting hay early pays, especially for growing cattle. And small differences in maturity can make big differences in gain and your bottom line. But don’t worry about being perfect, just cut earlier than last year.  ~ Dr. Jimmy Henning for Farmer’s Pride