With feed in short supply in some areas, hay prices have increased dramatically. It’s a seller’s market but buyers beware - you may be getting more than you bargained for. Contaminated forage or feed is one of the main ways that new weeds are introduced into grazing operations. This is especially true this year, when ditch hay and other sources are being cut and sold. The risk of introducing new weeds increases in proportion to the distance that feed is transported. Weeds to watch for include noxious weeds such as absinthe, downy brome, field bindweed, Canada thistle, leafy spurge, scentless chamomile and common tansy, or new prohibited weeds such as knapweeds (diffuse and spotted), field scabious, poison hemlock, red bartsia or Dalmatian toadflax. Contact the Saskatchewan Forage Council for a copy of their newly released Invasive Plant Species Guide for a complete list and description.
A common difficulty with buying baled hay or other baled feed is the inability to pre-inspect the source prior to shipment and the fact that visual inspection of bales when they arrive on site is often ineffective. As a result, those who buy supplemental feed sight-unseen may find new weeds appearing in subsequent years.
One way to prevent this is to contact the municipal office from the source area and ask their weed inspector to check the source hayfield for noxious weeds. Alternatively, a private agrologist can be hired to perform this task. Ideally hay should be inspected while still standing and be cut within two weeks of inspection to be sure that no noxious weeds have set seed.
Even with forage that is “certified weed-free” (tied with special blue- and orange-coloured twine and tagged as Certified Weed-Free), it is prudent to take precautions:
- Keep imported hay separate from local source hay;
- Have the delivery truck cleaned thoroughly at the storage site before it departs to prevent weeds from spreading along laneways leading out of your yard;
- Monitor the storage site for two to three years for new weed growth, and use recommended management practices to destroy those that emerge;
- Feed known-source local hay in a confined area for four to five days to allow any potential new weed seeds to be passed in a confined area before re-introducing livestock to pasture;
- Store manure produced while feeding imported hay separate from manure produced on local feed and compost manure by watering and turning frequently to keep pile temperatures high (65 to 70 C) over a period of a week to kill weed seeds;
- Monitor the manure pile for new weeds;
- Clean equipment used in these hay and manure areas prior to moving on to other tasks; and
- Monitor your pasture for new weeds. July is a prime time for this activity, since many plants flower during this period and, therefore, will be more conspicuous.