cutting of hay

The first cutting of hay had some quality issues, although there was a lot of quantity. Fall cuttings can also provide good quality hay, although it's good to give hayfields and pastures time to recover before the first frost. 

Heavy rains this spring produced a good deal of forage growth in hay fields, although the wet weather made getting a first cutting a challenge.

Jim Humphrey, University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist based in Atchison County, says there has been a lot of hay put up in his northwest Missouri area.

“Hay yields up here have been really good,” he says. “We’ve been really fortunate from a grass-growing perspective.”

July brought mostly hot, dry conditions, and Humphrey says the pastures began summer in better shape than recent years.

“This is the first time in a few years we’ve had really good pastures going into July,” he says.

Quality and quantity

Rebecca Vittetoe, Iowa State University Extension agronomist for east central Iowa, says the first cutting of hay in her area yielded a lot, but it was tough to get the timing of cutting right due to the weather, which hurt the quality. The second cutting faced the opposite problem. The hay quality was good, but hot weather may have limited it.

“There was some disappointment in yields,” she says.

Rusty Lee, who farms in Montgomery County, Missouri, and works as an MU Extension regional agronomist for several counties in east central Missouri, says it was hard to get the first cutting of hay put up in a timely manner.

“We’re putting it up later than they want,” he says.

The more mature hay has lower quality, so nutrition testing could be a good idea for producers to formulate a “battle plan” for their feed rations, Lee says.

Vittetoe says there have been reports of potato leaf hopper in Iowa alfalfa fields, with some producers needing to spray insecticide.

Pastures have reached their summer dip in productivity, she says, but management can help producers get the most out of them.

“I can tell we’re kind of getting into that summer slump,” she says. “Be careful to not over-graze. Kind of that take half, leave half, rotational grazing. Rotating and giving the pasture time to rest will definitely help, long-term.”

Vittetoe says some producers may need to use “sacrifice pastures” they graze down more to give other pastures proper rest.

Fall outlook

Producers should see pastures picking back up in September and October, Vittetoe says, although they should scout to find out what they have and when they can adjust their grazing rotation schedules.

In addition, she says more producers are grazing fall cover crops.

Humphrey says there could be good fall hay cuttings, although it will depend on the weather.

“If we catch some rains, I think there’s going to be a good fall cutting of hay,” he says.

In addition, he says being able to plant forages on prevent plant acres will help the forage outlook.

“It’s a great thing that they’ll allow us to hay that or graze that on Sept. 1,” Humphrey says.

When it comes to fall haying, Humphrey says it is a good idea to give fields time to re-grow before the first killing frost. He says warm-season perennials’ last cutting should be around Sept. 1 to 15, and alfalfa around Sept. 15, adjusted for locations farther north or south.

“We’d like four to six weeks regrowth on that alfalfa before that first killing frost,” he says.

Humphrey adds alfalfa can be grazed after the first killing frost. He says tall fescue can have its last cutting a little later.

“The fescue, we can get pretty late on that. They’re pretty hardy,” he says.

It can be inexact when to make the final hay cutting, but Vittetoe says it is a good idea to err on the side of caution.

“It’s always hard to know when that first frost is,” she says.

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.