In spite of endless rains throughout the state this spring, hay production is showing strong potential.
Abundant moisture and favorable temperatures set the stage for a good growing season in Missouri. If farmers can time fieldwork just right, this year’s crop should produce adequate supplies.
Henry and Cass County, Missouri, producers Luke Kagarice and Shane Irvin said the hardest part this year is finding an open window of weather.
“The thing that holds us back is when they start putting in 30-40% chance of rain in the forecast,” Kagarice said.
The possibility of rain keeps him cautious. And sometimes the forecast proves false, causing him to miss opportunities to be in the field. But he tries to not be negative about the moisture when it does come.
“Moisture is a good thing, except for the places that can’t get rid of it fast enough,” he said.
The rains on Kagarice’s farm this spring helped boost production.
“Overall it’s probably increased what we’ve harvested so far by 25% compared to last year,” he said. “As long as there is a fertility program to back it, and the soil can handle the moisture, [the field] has responded to it.”
Irvin is happy with the quality and quantity of grass this year.
“The fields are fantastic, but to get into them, you have to find three days of really warm weather,” he said.
It can be a struggle to manage timing and forage quality. Kagarice likes to start cutting hay in late May. This year, he was delayed until early June due to rains. And working off the farm limits his schedule.
Hay cut now contains mature seeds and few leaves. Feed quality drops.
“Stems and lack of leaves cuts nutrition,” Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist, said in a news release.
Recent hay tests showed only 8% to 9% crude protein and 50% TDN (total digestible nutrients).
“That may support a dry cow, but not a producing cow or calves,” Roberts said.
Kagarice’s first cutting has yielded about four 1,500-pound bales per acre.
“We’ll be fine with the first cutting,” he said. “We always try to take advantage of pastures that get ahead of us and will clean those off in July and August to get them ready for stockpiling.”
Irvin, on the other hand, is focused on square bales and small fields. This is his first year harvesting his own hay, which makes for plenty of lessons.
“You’re playing with fire this time of year because the moisture is a lot higher,” he said. “You have to be careful with square bales.”
To get acquainted with his equipment, Irvin is taking things slow and steady, harvesting small fields and crop ground waterways.
“I haven’t cut down anything very large yet. I’m not touching my 20- and 30-acre fields yet,” he said.
Irvin plays close attention to the weather and tries to not put himself in a pinch.
“I try to look at the weather three to four days out,” he said. “If I don’t have a wind or higher temperatures, I’m not near as confident going into the field.”
He has high hopes for the year, though.
“I’ve probably put up around 600 bales off my small fields,” he said. With 300-400 acres to cover, he plans to bale up to 5,000 squares.
“The fields will still be good going into late June and July,” he said. “Depending on the rain, we’ll see if we get a second cutting.”
Hoping to gain more flexibility, Kagarice plans to put up haylage this year as well.
“That’ll help us get through it quicker if there’s a rain coming,” he said. “You can mow it at night and bale it the next day and wrap it.”
That reduces the harvest window from four days down to 24-hours.
“I really think the haylage will be a more popular thing in the years to come in the cattle business,” he said. “The wrappers are mitigating the risk of losing quality in your hay, especially when the weather isn’t as cooperative.”