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September 16, 2019  -  What to do with late season or second cut hay

Cute it, graze it, or leave it?
2019 might be remembered as the year with a summer that never was. Although rain accumulation was not excessive in Central Alberta, rarely were there more than two or three dry days between showers. As a result, farmers had a heck of a time putting up hay and harvesting cereal crops.

Even now, in the third week of September, there is cut hay laying in fields and mature standing hay yet to be cut. For those lucky enough to have taken off a first cut during a dry window in early July, the possibility of a second cut of alfalfa can be very appealing.

Current hay prices are almost as high as following last year’s drought. Many livestock owners were forced to use up feed reserves, buy off farm, or look at alternative feed strategies. Similar to last year, come mid-winter, any extra feed -regardless of quality- will be appreciated.

No matter how mature crops may be at this time of year, there is still feed value in harvesting hay rather than late grazing. The haying strategy may need to be altered to accommodate the late season but putting up dry hay is still possible.

Standing mature hay tends to contain less moisture but can readily absorb external moisture if left exposed to the elements after cutting. As such it is more susceptible to degradation and potential leaf loss.  While widening the windrow and teddering after cutting works well mid-summer, fall weather involves greater moisture and temperature extremes.

Maintaining the integrity of the hay in a narrower windrow to accommodate longer drying periods will help protect forage from damage. Depending on weather forecasts, raking may have to be done the day prior to baling to capitalize on sun and heat during shorter days.
For those producers with the capacity to apply hay preservative while baling forage, the moisture window can be increased when necessary, helping considerably to compensate for late season challenges. 

With shorter days and cooler weather, it can be difficult to bale any dry forage at acceptable moisture levels. Even though second cut fall alfalfa, with fine stems and leafy foliage, produces some of the best quality of the year, there are risks to consider.

Given the season, heat damage, mold or spontaneous combustion can occur when rich, fine-stemmed hay is packed into tight heavy bales. Weather damage can also reduce quality considerably.
Of perhaps greater concern is that winterkill or injury may increase if the winter-hardening process is disrupted by harvest, especially in northern climates. Alfalfa plants are more likely to survive winter if they have enough regrowth (usually 4-6 weeks before a hard frost) in order to accumulate adequate nutrient reserves.

Grazing is an alternative option that can provide forage when pastures run out but must be balanced off against managing for bloat. Fully bloomed alfalfa is relatively low risk grazing, while young vegetative growth can be dangerous for livestock. After a hard frost, bloat risk increases for several days until plants begin to wilt, after which the risk declines considerably.
Stands can be damaged if fields are not dry and firm when grazed and large cow paddies may plug up haybines the following year. Productivity may also be reduced and/or delayed the following season, offsetting any gains made in fall grazing.

Sometimes leaving second cut alfalfa standing can provide definite advantages. Winter hardiness will be maximized and provide for vigorous early growth the following spring. Taller stubble tends to hold more snow, enhance moisture reserves, provide extra insulation and reduce root heaving and ice damage.

The adage "use it or lose it” certainly applies to harvesting forage. The value of next year’s crop is less certain than that of the current year. Tough hay can be managed by feeding it sooner and the better-quality left until the new year.

Either way, working out an appropriate feed program can be a challenge at the best of times. Clearwater County’s Agriculture and Community Services department provides a ration balancing service to producers at no charge. To learn more, call the County office at 403-845-4444, or drop in the office and we will help you make the most of the feed resources you have available.

Upcoming Events

  • BearSmart Basics: Mountain View BearSmart, along with Mountain View and Clearwater Counties sponsors a FREE workshop discussing "Bear Attractant Mitigation”. We live in bear country and interaction is inevitable but does not have to be a hardship when we implement ways to manage conflict.  Featuring Jay Honeyman, a bear conflict biologist with Alberta Environment and Parks. October 3 at the James River Hall from 7:00-8:30 pm.  
  • Unwanted Pesticides or Animal Meds.  Cleanfarms is a non-profit environmental stewardship organization, working collaboratively with its members, partner agencies, and government to ensure Canadian farmers can actively contribute to a healthy environment and a sustainable future.  Producers can drop off unwanted pesticides or animal medications, provided the items are in a sealable or spill-proof container to one of the following:
    • Benalto Agrio-Services – October 7 – just under ½ km south of HWY 11 on RR 2-4 (403-746-2012)
    • Nutrien Ag Solutions – October 8 – 27528 HWY 42, Penhold, AB (403-886-4326)
    • Richardson Pioneer Lacombe – October 10 – 4726 46 Street, Lacombe, AB (403-782-9554)
  • Painting the Town – Watershed Style.  Medicine River Watershed Society is holding its Plein (Open) Air painting and photography event on Sunday, September 15.  Painters are welcome to paint at a location of their choice in the watershed that day and display the result at open house supper beginning at 5 pm at the Gilby Hall.  Photographers are welcome to display their photos of the watershed at the open house as well.  The public are invited to enjoy the artwork and the free supper at the same time.  For more information contact Derryn (403-746-5990) or Erin (403-506-7913).  
  • Caring for my Land – Do you have a watershed friendly project in mind.  Maybe planting trees as a buffer, riparian fencing, livestock watering away from a creek or slough or seeding soil-holding deep-rooted perennial grasses in an erosion prone area.  50-50 cost share funding may be available.  Call for details.
To view previous Ag news articles, click of the archive folders below:
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019