May 5, 1999 | By: Ellen Brightwell

Kentucky cattle producers agree that nutrition has a major impact on cattle production. But when it comes to hay production some producers' actions don't match their words.

"Stage of maturity at harvest is the single most important factor affecting hay quality because it's the easiest time to make the greatest improvement in this quality. Boot to early-head stage is the proper growth period for the first cutting of grass pastures. Thereafter, cut pastures every four to six weeks as growth indicates," said Garry Lacefield, Extension forage specialist for with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

"Nutrition is extremely important to cattle operations. A major goal should be to produce high-quality hay this spring," he added.

Lacefield said grasses and legumes drop in crude protein and digestibility as they advance in maturity.

"Tall fescue and orchardgrass hay cut early will have high quality to meet a lactating cow and calf's nutritional requirements," he said. "But if you wait until mid-June to start harvesting, tall fescue and orchardgrass will be too low in quality to provide the nutrients lactating cows need," he said. "Granted, you will have more tonnage, but quality will be so low you'll probably need a protein and energy supplement to meet animals' nutritional needs.

"Although you won't be able to cut all hay early, cut some while it's still high quality. Feed this hay to cows that have calves in the springtime. Many of these cows will calve in February and March when grass pastures aren't producing much forage. Feeding these cows high-quality hay will help them produce milk for their calves and stay in good condition."

Rain is a common reason given for cutting hay too late. Granted rain can cause problems with harvest but producers still should set a goal to cut hay early.

"Be prepared to make hay while the sun shines," Lacefield said. "Check all machinery well in advance of cutting time so you'll be ready to cut hay when it looks like rain will break."

"Pastures and hay fields are producing a lot of high-quality forage. Be sure to harvest excess forage while it's still high quality. This stored hay will give you a good source of nutrients for cows later on."


Writer: Ellen Brightwell
(606) 257-1376

Source: Garry Lacefield
(502) 365-7541, Ext. 202