Round bale

A round bale attracts avian attention in an eastern-Marathon County hay field.

Whether its cattle or corn, hay or hogs, we take pride in what we produce. However, when it comes to hay, sometimes a weedy pasture or field is all that’s available, and the extra forage is needed. Can weedy bales still find use on the farm?

Foremost, weedy hay has the potential to move weed seed around and create problems in pastures and yards that we didn’t have to worry about before. If weedy bales come from our own operation, we can confine their storage and feeding, keeping weed seed from spreading to new areas.

This becomes more difficult when bales are purchased and brought in, especially in emergency situations like a wildfire or drought when we can’t afford to be picky. Purchasing quality hay from a reputable seller can help, but even then a few weeds may slip by. Keep track of where off-farm bales are fed and check back in the spring and summer for new plant species. Catching a possible problem early can help keep it under control.

Some weedy species have the potential to be toxic to livestock even after drying and curing. When grazing, animals can pick around problem species, but dried in hay, selectivity is reduced, especially if the hay ends up in the grinder. Identify questionable species to make sure problems won’t arise when feeding. Identification is best done with a fresh sample, but even a ballpark ID on a dried sample is better than leaving it to chance.

Finally, weedy hay can have issues with quality. Often this hay came from an already stressed location that allowed the weeds to establish and take over. Overall quality of this hay may be low enough to not meet animal nutrient requirements. Sampling hay for analysis takes minimal time and money, but can pay off big later in animal performance.

Weedy hay isn’t ideal, but it can still be useful. Be mindful of weed seed, check for potentially toxic species, and test for quality when feeding to keep issues to a minimum and maximize use.