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Harvesting summer annual grasses
Forage Minute

Harvesting summer annual grasses

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Pasture flowers

Rau’s soil health practices have increased the plant diversity in his pastures and improved his stocking rates. “The grasses that we didn't see – the blue stems and others we didn't see – are slowly coming back,” Rau said. “There are flowers blooming from spring ‘til fall. I’ve been able to almost double my stocking rates and still have plenty of grass left over at the end of the year.”

It can be a little tricky to put up good quality hay from summer annual grasses like sorghum-Sudan hybrids, pearl millet, and forage sorghums. Here are some tips to help make sure these types of hay are of good quality and that hay is dry and will not heat or mold.

Nearly all problems making good summer annual grass or cane hay are caused by their stems. Stems are low in protein and energy, they are unbearably slow to dry, and the lower stems contain most of the potentially toxic nitrates.

To solve some problems, cut early, when plants are only waist high. When cut early, stems are smaller, they’re eaten more readily, and the hay contains more protein and energy. Also, there is less plant volume. So, with smaller stems and fewer of them, the hay will dry quicker. Although you will have less tonnage when cutting early, you are creating more days for regrowth and a good second cutting.

Regardless of when you harvest though, cut it high, leaving eight to ten inches of stubble. Tall stubble pays off three ways – it helps plants begin regrowth quicker, it holds hay off the ground so air can help dry underneath, and it keeps many nitrates out in the field stubble rather than harvesting them all in your hay.

And finally, always crimp the hay. Even when stems are small, the waxy coating on the stems cause slow drying. But if you break open these stems by crimping, water will be able to escape and evaporate more quickly.

So cut it early, cut it high. Crimp the stems and they will dry.

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