Making High-Grade Hay

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Even if the majority of the hay is high quality, hays containing dirt, mold, weeds, trash or other foreign materials indicate poorer quality hay and may be unfit to feed to horses. Hay Color Good quality hay should be bright green in color with little fading. A bleached, yellow, brown or black color may indicate aged hay, mold or poor storage conditions.

Storage condition and age have a significant effect on vitamin content of hays. Many vitamins, such as vitamins A and E, are not stable over time and lose biological activity. After approximately six months, almost all vitamin A and E activity levels are lost. The nutritional value of hay is compromised with increased exposure to heat, sunlight and rain, which speed up this process. When good quality hay for your horse is scarce or too costly, you may need to compensate for poorer quality hay. You can do this by supplementing with a quality balanced horse feed. Hay balancers help provide the missing essential nutrients the horse requires in the diet.

In some cases, they can replace hay in the diet entirely. Related Education Content. Some animals are also fed concentrated feeds such as grain or vitamin supplements in addition to hay. One of the most significant differences in hay digestion is between ruminant animals, such as cattle and sheep ; and nonruminant, hindgut fermentors , such as horses. Both types of animals can digest cellulose in grass and hay, but do so by different mechanisms. Because of the four-chambered stomach of cattle, they are often able to break down older forage and have more tolerance of mold and changes in diet.

Selecting Quality Hay For Horses

The single-chambered stomach and cecum or "hindgut" of the horse uses bacterial processes to break down cellulose that are more sensitive to changes in feeds and the presence of mold or other toxins, requiring horses to be fed hay of a more consistent type and quality. Different animals also use hay in different ways: cattle evolved to eat forages in relatively large quantities at a single feeding, and then, due to the process of rumination , take a considerable amount of time for their stomachs to digest food, often accomplished while the animal is lying down, at rest. Thus quantity of hay is important for cattle, who can effectively digest hay of low quality if fed in sufficient amounts.

Sheep will eat between two and four percent of their body weight per day in dry feed, such as hay, [4] and are very efficient at obtaining the most nutrition possible from three to five pounds per day of hay or other forage.

Tips for making high-quality alfalfa | Farm Progress

Unlike ruminants, horses digest food in small portions throughout the day, and can only use approximately 2. Thus, they extract more nutrition out of smaller quantities of feed. If their type of feed is changed dramatically, or if they are fed moldy hay or hay containing toxic plants, they can become ill; colic is the leading cause of death in horses. Contaminated hay can also lead to respiratory problems in horses.

Qualitative (visual) measures

Hay can be soaked in water, sprinkled with water or subjected to steaming to reduce dust. Hay production and harvest, colloquially known as "making hay", [8] "haymaking", or "doing hay", involves a multiple step process: cutting, drying or "curing", raking, processing, and storing. Hayfields do not have to be reseeded each year in the way that grain crops are, but regular fertilizing is usually desirable, and overseeding a field every few years helps increase yield.

Methods and the terminology to describe the steps of making hay have varied greatly throughout history, and many regional variations still exist today. However, whether done by hand or by modern mechanized equipment, tall grass and legumes at the proper stage of maturity must be cut, then allowed to dry preferably by the sun , then raked into long, narrow piles known as windrows.

Next, the cured hay is gathered up in some form usually by some type of baling process and placed for storage into a haystack or into a barn or shed to protect it from moisture and rot. During the growing season, which is spring and early summer in temperate climates , grass grows at a fast pace. It is at its greatest nutritive value when all leaves are fully developed and seed or flower heads are just a bit short of full maturity. When growth is at a maximum in the pasture or field, if judged correctly, it is cut. Grass hay cut too early will not cure as easily due to high moisture content, plus it will produce a lower yield per acre than longer, more mature grass.

But hay cut too late is coarser, lower in resale value and has lost some of its nutrients. There is usually about a two-week "window" of time in which grass is at its ideal stage for harvesting hay. The time for cutting alfalfa hay is ideally done when plants reach maximum height and are producing flower buds or just beginning to bloom, cutting during or after full bloom results in lower nutritional value of the hay.

Hay can be raked into rows as it is cut, then turned periodically to dry, particularly if a modern swather is used.

Or, especially with older equipment or methods, the hay is cut and allowed to lie spread out in the field until it is dry, then raked into rows for processing into bales afterwards. During the drying period, which can take several days, the process is usually sped up by turning the cut hay over with a hay rake or spreading it out with a tedder.

Key Strategies For Making High Quality Hay

If it rains while the hay is drying, turning the windrow can also allow it to dry faster. However, turning the hay too often or too roughly can also cause drying leaf matter to fall off, reducing the nutrients available to animals. Drying can also be sped up by mechanized processes, such as use of a hay conditioner , or by use of chemicals sprayed onto the hay to speed evaporation of moisture, though these are more expensive techniques, not in general use except in areas where there is a combination of modern technology, high prices for hay, and too much rain for hay to dry properly.

Once hay is cut, dried and raked into windrows, it is usually gathered into bales or bundles, then hauled to a central location for storage. In some places, depending on geography, region, climate, and culture, hay is gathered loose and stacked without being baled first. Hay must be fully dried when baled and kept dry in storage.

If hay is baled while too moist or becomes wet while in storage, there is a significant risk of spontaneous combustion. Some stacks are arranged in such a manner that the hay itself "sheds" water when it falls. Other methods of stacking use the first layers or bales of hay as a cover to protect the rest. To completely keep out moisture, outside haystacks can also be covered by tarps, and many round bales are partially wrapped in plastic as part of the baling process.

Hay is also stored under a roof when resources permit. It is frequently placed inside sheds, or stacked inside of a barn. On the other hand, care must also be taken that hay is never exposed to any possible source of heat or flame, as dry hay and the dust it produces are highly flammable. Early farmers noticed that growing fields produced more fodder in the spring than the animals could consume, and that cutting the grass in the summer, allowing it to dry and storing it for the winter provided their domesticated animals with better quality nutrition than simply allowing them to dig through snow in the winter to find dried grass.

Therefore, some fields were "shut up" for hay. Up to the end of the 19th century, grass and legumes were not often grown together because crops were rotated. Later still, some farmers grew crops, like straight alfalfa lucerne , for special-purpose hay such as that fed to dairy cattle. Much hay was originally cut by scythe by teams of workers, dried in the field and gathered loose on wagons.

Later, haying would be done by horse-drawn implements such as mowers. With the invention of agricultural machinery such as the tractor and the baler , most hay production became mechanized by the s. After hay was cut and had dried, the hay was raked or rowed up by raking it into a linear heap by hand or with a horse-drawn implement. Turning hay, when needed, originally was done by hand with a fork or rake. Once the dried hay was rowed up, pitch forks were used to pile it loose, originally onto a horse-drawn cart or wagon , later onto a truck or tractor-drawn trailer, for which a sweep could be used instead of pitch forks.

Loose hay was taken to an area designated for storage—usually a slightly raised area for drainage—and built into a hay stack. The stack was made waterproof as it was built a skilled task and the hay would compress under its own weight and cure by the release of heat from the residual moisture in the hay and from the compression forces. The stack was fenced from the rest of the paddock in a rick yard , and often thatched or sheeted to keep it dry.

When needed, slices of hay would be cut using a hay knife and fed out to animals each day. On some farms the loose hay was stored in a barrack , shed , or barn , normally in such a way that it would compress down and cure. Hay could be stored in a specially designed barn with little internal structure to allow more room for the hay loft. Alternatively, an upper storey of a cow-shed or stable was used, with hatches in the floor to allow hay to be thrown down into hay-racks below. Depending on region, the term "hay rick" could refer to the machine for cutting hay, the hay stack or the wagon used to collect the hay.

Hay baling began with the invention of the first hay press in about The first bales weighed about lb. The original machines were of the vertical design similar to the one photographed by Greene Co. Historical Society. They used a horse driven screw press mechanism or a dropped weight to compress the hay. The first patent went to HL Emery for a horse powered, screw operated hay press in They could be powered by steam engines by about The continuous hay baler arrived in Modern mechanized hay production today is usually performed by a number of machines.

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While small operations use a tractor to pull various implements for mowing and raking, larger operations use specialized machines such as a mower or a swather , which are designed to cut the hay and arrange it into a windrow in one step. Balers are usually pulled by a tractor, with larger balers requiring more powerful tractors. Mobile balers , machines which gather and bale hay in one process, were first developed around The size and shape made it possible for people to pick bales up, stack them on a vehicle for transport to a storage area, then build a haystack by hand. However, to save labor and increase safety, loaders and stackers were also developed to mechanise the transport of small bales from the field to the haystack.


  • Changing Hay Sources for Horses.
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Conditioning of hay has become popular. The basic idea is that it decreases drying time, particularly in humid climates or if rain interferes with haying. Usually, a salt solution is sprayed over the top of the hay generally alfalfa that helps to dry the hay. Conditioning can also refer to the rollers inside a swather that crimps the alfalfa to help squeeze out the moisture. Modern hay production often relies on artificial fertilizer and herbicides. Traditionally, manure has been used on hayfields, but modern chemical fertilizers are used today as well.

Hay that is to be certified as weed-free for use in wilderness areas must often be sprayed with chemical herbicides to keep unwanted weeds from the field, and sometimes even non-certified hayfields are sprayed to limit the production of noxious weeds.

Inspect Your Hay Visually Before Buying or Feeding to Your Horse

However, organic forms of fertilization and weed control are required for hay grown for consumption by animals whose meat will ultimately be certified organic. More Crops News. Corn Yields Are Rolling In. Illinois S. Program Acres Total 27, All Crops News.

Hay Quality, Sampling, and Testing

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