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OSU Extension BEEF Team

BEEF Cattle questions may be directed to the OSU Extension BEEF Team through Stephen Boyles or Stan Smith, Editor

You may subscribe to the weekly Ohio BEEF Cattle letter by sending an e-mail to smith.263@osu.edu

Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 687

May 19, 2010

Forage Focus: Time to Make Hay - David Dugan, OSU Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources

I am sure you have heard the phrase about making hay when the sun shines and that is exactly where we are this year. The unusually dry and warm April may have caused most of the cool season grasses like orchardgrass to be shorter than normal. This is the third week of May, and most of the hay fields that I have seen have several seed heads on the orchardgrass, and it is not very tall or thick.

Some could blame the low yield on low use of fertilizer over the last few years due to higher prices. The price of fertilizer is not near as high as it was a couple of years ago, but in some cases people have used less fertilizer and it could be catching up. Even if this is the case in some fields, I have yet to see hardly any fields that appear to be normal for this time of the year, when it comes to yield.

So, there is not lots of hay in the field, now what do you do? I am sure there are several schools of thought on this, but here is one to think about. First of all, once that plant goes to producing seed, that is what it puts nearly all of its energy into, so additional growth is not there. That plant is finished growing and is maturing by producing the seed. Unless you are planning on harvesting seed, why wait? I have heard farmers say they are waiting on the undergrowth. While waiting on undergrowth, the mature plant that has already produced seed is dying. It will soon start to lose some of the green color and eventually turn brown. As that takes place from this point on, that plant is losing nutritional value. OK, so back to, now what do you do?

It is not the easiest answer, especially when it comes to time and labor, or even cost of fuel, but make the first cutting now. As soon as the weather permits, harvest the first cutting and get it off the field so the plants can start over, becoming vegetative again. The quantity of hay that you put in a bale will be less than normal in most cases, but it should be of pretty good quality if it is cut before the plants mature even more. Some later maturing species including timothy may not be there yet, but most of the fescue and orchardgrass is ready. If the first cutting is removed early, the plant still has time to hopefully benefit from early season rains for the summer months and possibly utilize some of the fertilizer that the first cutting didn't, so there's opportunity for a good second cutting.

I will warn you that cutting hay early when it is less coarse and better feed allows livestock to acquire more total nutrition from it. As a result, they can consume more, and digest more. Thus, the higher quality hay can be targeted towards the cow groups that need it the most. This may also be an opportunity to feed some high quality hay along with some lesser quality hay that you have left over, or that you harvest later. Be sure to record where the better hay is stored and feed it accordingly.

When you store your hay, there are some fairly simple things that can be done to help save more of it from loss before you feed it. The ideal situation would be to store the hay under roof. This may not fit your situation. Covering it with tarps will help, but they can be a challenge to keep in place. Maybe the easiest and cheapest way to reduce loss would be where you stack the hay if it has to be stacked outside. Avoid stacking it along wooded areas that shade the sun from drying the surface after a rain. Avoid stacking the hay in areas where the water will pool around it. Stack the hay on a high area so water runs away from it. Even then water tends to run off of the bale and concentrate near the bottom of the bale. The use of gravel or something else like tires or pallets that will let the water get away from the bale will help even more.

I mention the storage part with this article because it is important to get those first cutting round bales off of the field as soon as possible so the second cutting possibility has a better chance. Keep in mind that hay does go through a sweat, and storage decisions should be based on the condition of the hay when it is put into a bale. Hay that may be marginal for too much moisture can cause problems from moldy hay, to barn fires, so keep this in mind as you harvest and store the hay crop.

If the weather permits and you are able to get all of your hay in a bale early while there is still high quality to the forage, be sure to pull some samples for testing later on. This is another reason to keep record of where you store the hay. For around $20 per sample you can find out what nutritional value the feed you are providing your livestock has. This will allow you to supplement if needed. It may also give you the opportunity to measure the quality of the earliest fields harvested compared the latest fields harvested. The protein, energy and feed values should be quite different in these comparisons.

If you would like to pull samples, many OSU Extension offices have hay probes available for use. Contact your local office of OSU Extension for more information.

Hay Making and Weather - Paul H. Craig, Dauphin County Pennsylvania Extension

Quite an interesting hay and haylage harvesting season so far this year. Across the state all forage producers have noted how advanced first cutting was this year. In parts of the southern region of the state most of first cutting of alfalfa has been made as haylage and in the central and northern regions harvest is simply waiting for ideal weather, if only Mother Nature will cooperate.

Since early May there has not been very good dry hay making weather. Most of the forage that has been harvested to date has been stored as haylage. In many cases where wet hay harvest is not possible the crop remains standing and is rapidly losing feed quality. Weather patterns in the next few days do not indicate a high probability of long periods of dry hay making weather but between rain events there may be small windows of harvest opportunities.

What effect does rain have on hay crops? Agronomists who have studied this note that the answer is not as simple as first thought. The actual impact of rain on hay crops depends on a few different factors including: how soon after cutting the crop is rained on, the length of the rainfall, the intensity of the rain and the type of forage crop.

The most damage to a hay crop from rainfall would be to have a nearly dry alfalfa crop that got rained on for a long time period with a heavy rain event. The closer to cutting that rain occurs results in less losses. In fact many producers have mowed hay during the tail end of rain events to get a jump on good weather that follows a cold front. In this situation mowing in a narrow windrow and then using a tedder soon after is important to get forages drying down rapidly.

Of course, the longer a rain event occurs on cut forages the greater the losses. When forages are wet (>30% moistures) the plant continues to respire even after mowing. This respiration process consumes plant sugars and other carbohydrates that reduce whole plant digestibility and feed values. An interesting note is that these same plant sugars are necessary for making high quality haylages. Frequently, rained on haylages result in poor fermentation and have less than desirable storage potential.

The intensity of a rain can affect forage losses also. A heavy downpour is more damaging to a crop than a slow rain event. Heavy rains again will wash out the desirable cell components resulting in poor quality feeds.

Finally, different crops will vary in their tolerance to rain events. Legumes, with many small leaves, are at a high risk for leaf loss from rain compared to grass type plants. Since highest plant quality is related to the amount of leaves in the forage efforts to retain leaves becomes critical.

So in summary the worst case scenario for rain events would be to have a long, high intensity rain to occur just prior to an alfalfa crop being ready to bale. The best case, if there is such a best case of rained on hay, would be a grass hay crop getting a light rain for a short time period immediately after mowing. Now, do you trust your weather man?

No Matter How You Slice It, It's P to K, 1 to 4, 13 to 50! - Stan Smith, PA, OSU Extension, Fairfield County

Through the series of drought, escalating price, managing dynamic change, and every other type of 'stress' meeting we've hosted in Ohio during recent years, it's apparent that the message regarding fertility is getting out. While not a new story, simply put, fertilizer is expensive yet we all know you can't starve a profit into a cow, and likewise, you can't starve production or profit into a forage field either.

This past year I'm seeing significantly more interest in soil testing, as well as receiving questions about interpreting soil tests and developing efficient fertilizer recommendations. It's also apparent some of those who make fertilizer recommendations for a living may not have attended our meetings, or perhaps do not subscribe to the concepts contained in the Tri-State Fertilizer Recommendations, OSU Extension bulletin E-2567!

Hence, let's review:

a) Soil Test, always soil test! Fertilizer is too expensive to apply if it's not a yield limiting factor. If we don't know what we presently have, we can't possibly know what we might need! Here's a link to a fact sheet with a list of soil testing labs.

b) Read the soil test or get help reading it. I'd discourage anyone from blindly accepting the fertilizer recommendations that sometimes come back with a soil test. I'm not even certain I'd believe their little graphs that I sometimes find on the soil test results which indicate a sample might be high, medium or low in a certain nutrient. What I was told by one of the labs when I asked how their recommendations are generated is that after they establish the nutrient levels in the soil through their laboratory procedures, the recommendations are often generated based on the opinions of the company who might have submitted the sample for the land owner. This means, unless you send in the sample yourself, you may get back a recommendation based on data other than what Ohio State's (or other midwest universities') research might suggest as published in OSU Extension Bulletin E-2567. Ask you local Agriculture Educator for help in developing a recommendation if you have questions.

c) If one insists on fertilizing without the benefit of knowing the present fertility levels, or if you know your present fertility levels meet or slightly exceed critical minimum levels, then it's prudent to base your fertilizer application rates on expected crop removal. If you are harvesting hay from the field, Bulletin E2567 tells us every ton removed (regardless of quality) takes with it 13 pounds of P2O5 and 50 pounds of K2O. No matter how you slice it, that's a ratio of 1 to 4, phosphorus to potash. Without benefit of a soil test to tell us otherwise, fertility needs to be replaced in that ratio when harvesting hay.

To put that into a little different perspective, consider that the average hay yield in Ohio is and has been for decades about 3 tons per acre per year. At 1 to 4, that's 13 and 50 pounds respectively multiplied times 3, or 39 pounds of P2O5 and 150 pounds of K2O per acre. As an FYI, since corn grain only removes about 0.27 pounds of K2O per bushel, it would take a yield of over 555 bushels of corn to remove the same amount of potash that an average Ohio hay yield removes!

To recap . . . you can't starve a profit into a crop or critter, immediately after first cutting is removed is an appropriate time to apply fertilizer to a hay field, and one ton of hay removes P and K in a ratio of 1 to 4, or 13 pounds P2O5 to 50 pounds of K2O. To maintain current fertility levels in your soils, it must be replaced with either fertilizer, manure nutrients, or some other form of fertility . . .1 to 4, 13 to 50, per ton of hay removed!

EDITOR's NOTE: For more detail and information regarding concerns offered in Dave Dugan's article above, visit the linked archived articles from past Ohio BEEF Cattle letters that follow . . . and, as soon as weather permits, it's time to make hay!

Hay Storage - Clyde Lane, University of Tennessee Extension

Hay Barns Now Financed Under New Provisions of 2008 Farm Bill

Forage Analysis: Sampling and Interpretation of Results - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County

Is it Really Better Than Snow Balls? - Stan Smith, Fairfield County PA, OSU Extension

Hay Testing - Rory Lewandowski, OSU Extension Educator, Athens County

Using Low Quality Hay - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County

Weekly Roberts Agricultural Commodity Market Report - Mike Roberts, Commodity Marketing Agent, Virginia Tech

LIVE CATTLE futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) closed down on Monday. JUNE'10LC futures were down $0.750/cwt at $92.500/cwt and $4.200/cwt lower than last report. The AUG'10LC contract closed at $91.800/cwt; off $0.800/cwt and a $3.275/cwt under last Monday's close. Six-week lows were posted on bearish chart signals, a lower stock market, and pressures from a seasonal decline in retail meat sales whose levels decline this time of year due to post-holiday demand decline. Some contracts were pressured by computer selling based on chart signals by large funds. A stronger U.S. dollar and the slide in the European stock market also pressured prices. Cash cattle traded between $98-$100/cwt last week and several floor sources expected further declines to $96-$97/cwt. USDA put the 5-area-average at $99.87/cwt amid light sales volume. Processors are expected to slow purchases this week on lower retail demand and dwindling profit margins. USDA put the choice beef cutout at $169.26/cwt; off $0.53/cwt and $1.78/cwt lower than this time last week. According to HedgersEdge.com, the average packer margin was lowered $29.20/hd from last report to a positive $33.50/hd based on the average buy of $99.95/cwt vs. the average breakeven of $102.66/cwt.

FEEDER CATTLE at the CME finished lower on Monday. The May'10FC contract closed down $0.575/cwt at $109.650/cwt; and $2.975/cwt lower than last week at this time. AUG'10FC futures closed at $112.050/cwt; off $0.925cwt and $3.875/cwt under last report. Feeders were pressured by lower commodities and the weakening European economy. However, some of the selling was due to position evening by the large fund Goldman Sachs as it balanced its commodity index against its energy portfolio. Expectations for lower cash feeders and fats also discouraged higher prices. The latest CME feeder cattle index was placed at $112.55/lb; down $0.15/lb from Friday and $0.41/lb lower than a week ago. Volume in Oklahoma City was off 2,079 from last week estimated at 9,800 head vs. 11,879 sold last Monday and 10,387 a year ago at this time of year.

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BEEF Cattle is a weekly publication of Ohio State University Extension in Fairfield County and the OSU Beef Team. Contributors include members of the Beef Team and other beef cattle specialists and economists from across the U.S.

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Fairfield County Agriculture and Natural Resources