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Harvesting Overly Mature Hay

By: Trevor Lennox, Regional Forage Specialist, Swift Current

Most producers never would have imagined that rain so plentiful in June and July would delay their hay cutting. So, what does this late hay cutting mean from a forage quality standpoint, and ultimately what does it mean to the animal consuming the forage?

The most important factor affecting hay quality is the stage of maturity at cutting. Young, vegetative forage is higher in protein and energy than older, flowering material. As forages mature, fibre increases while protein and digestibility decreases.

Late harvesting causes the crude protein value of the feed to drop. For example, instead of having a 14 to 16 per cent protein feed,  you are faced with a protein value of around seven to 10 per cent. As feed matures, there are secondary compounds, such as lignin, that continue to increase within plant cell walls, which makes the feed less digestible.

So, what is the issue with lower protein values and poorer digestibility? One of the challenges with poorer feed is that it slows the passage rate through the digestive tract of a ruminant. When the passage rate slows, you are limiting the potential for the ruminant animal to thrive as they physically cannot pass through enough food and their performance can suffer. A feed test can determine the protein and energy of a particular forage, allowing a producer to know what type of supplement may be required to provide a balanced ration.

Forage producers within Saskatchewan are encouraged to take part in the 2016 ‘Saskatchewan Forage Harvest Challenge’, where they are ‘challenged’ to test their feed to gain a better understanding of the quality of the feed produced on their operation in order to ensure a ration is developed that  meets the needs of their livestock.

Feed testing forages can help manage the winter feeding period. It can also prevent overfeeding, and more importantly, under feeding of nutrients. As part of the Hay Harvest Challenge, a free forage handbook can be picked up at any Ministry of Agriculture office or Saskatchewan Peavey Mart location. Producers can then use the handbook to record information in regards to their haying operations. Contest rules are within the handbook for submitting an entry form, with winners being determined through a random draw. Prizes consist of one $1000 prize of in-store merchandise from a Saskatchewan Peavey Mart location, as well as eight $250 forage analysis vouchers from Central Testing Laboratory.

For further information on harvesting hay, or the Saskatchewan Hay harvest challenge contact Trevor Lennox at 306-778-8294, or trevor.lennox@gov.sk.ca

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