Don’t let those drought-stressed forages go to seed

You won’t get a lot of hay from that first cut but it gives you a chance of getting a second one

Determining the right time to cut a hay stand could mean the difference between harvesting a second cut or the stand becoming dormant, says a provincial forage and beef specialist.

“A lack of sufficient moisture stresses plants, and that is certainly apparent this spring,” said Karin Lindquist. “Plants that do not get enough moisture are usually stunted and are forced to set seed earlier than normal. Management considerations — for hay production especially — when faced with such issues are timely.”

All plants strive to produce seed and those experiencing stress from lack of moisture are at risk of dying. They need to produce seeds as soon as possible and once they’ve done that, they go dormant — usually for the remainder of the year.

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Allowing plants to reach seed set when growing a forage stand for hay or pasture is a distinct disadvantage, said Lindquist.

“Even when moisture is adequate later in the growing season, it is unlikely the mature plants will regrow. If any regrowth does occur, it will primarily be from tillers,” she said. “Alfalfa plants that are cut when they reach 30 to 50 per cent bloom — one plant with an open blossom compared with three to five other plants — or grasses when they are almost ready to flower, will be encouraged to restart regrowth.

“By the time the rains arrive, the plants will be able to take full advantage of the sudden arrival of moisture to provide greater yields than the previous first cut.”

Cutting short and moisture-deficient hay crops means volumes will be low, she added.

“Some of that cut forage may need to be left behind to break down.”

Attempting to harvest as much hay as possible from the swaths carries risk of kicking up soil into the bales, and that can cause white mould issues that are only realized once those bales are fed to livestock.

“While the hay may cause some feed refusal, soil-borne molds typically do not contain mycotoxins,” said Lindquist. “However, feed quality can certainly be reduced by 10 to 20 per cent or more.”

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