Hay (left), straw

Weather has been uncooperative to make hay

The weather allowed us to get some house projects done outside but unfortunately, the weather forecast has not been so favorable for those of you looking to make hay.

If you don’t have the ability to wrap your hay, the weather windows just have not been too good otherwise.  A lot of hay was made during the hot, dry spell in the second week of June, but not much has been made since, due to this. Keep this in mind if you are purchasing first cutting hay this year – there may be as much as a month difference in the maturity of the hay. Why does the maturity of the hay matter?  As grass and legumes get older, they become more fibrous and will begin to lose some of their green color. When it is baled, the hay is stemmy with fewer leaves resulting in a less palatable hay, and fewer nutrients per pound. This type of hay is probably suitable for steers, but horses and bred heifers will likely need to have a higher quality of forage. (Notice the words “probably” and “likely” in that last sentence).

The only way to know the quality of the forage is to have it tested by a hay testing laboratory.  Hay that appears to be of poor quality may have good nutritional value, and hay that looks great may have poor nutrient quality.  A $4 bale of hay might have twice the nutrient value as a $3 bales so it may be more economical to purchase the higher-priced feed.  Hay testing is not very common, but if you are serious about buying or selling quality hay, having it tested is a great way to know exactly what is going into your livestock feed rations.  Lab results will typically report the dry matter, digestible energy, protein, total digestible nutrients (TDN),neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent fiber (ADF) and nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC).

Dry matter and protein are pretty straight-forward measurements of how much moisture and protein the jay contains, respectively.  Digestible energy, or sometimes just reported as TDN, is a measure of how much energy hay contains.  This is a very important value if you are trying to get weight on your calves or have lactating animals.  Good quality hay will have TDN values in the mid-50s or higher.  ADF and NDF are both measures of fiber in the hay, and high levels of either will decrease the digestibility.  Hay with high levels of NSC have incresased levels of sugar and are problematic for horses with Cushing’s disease; if you have a horse with Cushing’s disease, you will definitely want to find hay with the lowest NSC levels possible without losing protein.

Testing is a great option if you are in the market for the best feed possible but if you are buying it straight out of the field, there is likely little time to have this done and farmers are not known for their patience during hay-making weather.  A quick approach to evaluating hay is to look at and smell the hay.  Open the bale and look at the color – dark green is better than light green or yellow.  Also, look for leaves, as they contain more nutrients than the stem.  It is important to open the bale as sun bleaching may make the hay look worse than it really is.  If the exterior of the bale is a straw color but the interior of the bale is green, it should still be good. Good hay will also smell sweet and fresh, even after several years in storage. If the hay smells musty, or has a brown appearance throughout, avoid it as it is moldy.

There will be a lot more hay made in the coming months, so make sure you are spending your hard-earned money on hay that is appropriate for your animals.

The Trumbull County Fair has started so take time to visit the fair and learn about agriculture in our county and support the county youth who have worked hard on their projects.  The fair is the time when they get tested on what they’ve learned about their projects, whether they bring livestock for sale or spent time learning about gardening.  Come see what great things they have done.  OSU Extension will also be manning the milkshake booth 3 to 7 pm, July 13, so stop out and say hello!!

For more information about hay testing call 330.638.6783 or visit trumbull.osu.edu.

Don’t forget to check out and “like” OSU Extension Trumbull County’s Facebook page for current programs and up-to-date information.


Lee Beers can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 330.638.6783.