Tips for a Successful Forage Harvest

Each spring, there’s usually a very long list of things producers need to complete on a timely basis. A couple years ago, I asked several very successful farmers what made the difference between doing very well compared to just getting by, and the answer was pretty uniform across the group. If a producer pays attention to the details for what they’re doing and does things on a timely basis, they will be more successful. That’s great advice! Having priorities from day to day will help farmers be more successful as they go through their lists. The focus of this article is to provide some key management tips for forage producers, based on scientific research, to help them during the growing season.

During the winter, Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Forage Council hosted the 2016 Great Lakes Forage and Grazing Conference. Dan Undersander from the University of Wisconsin presented the keynote address, Advances in Haymaking. His main points are summarized below.

  1. Take first cutting by plant height. Producers should measure the height at the top of the plant stem, not the tip of the leaflet. Consider harvesting at 28-29 inches in height to get the best compromise between yield and quality of the crop. Research findings show a daily change of -0.25 percent in crude protein, +0.36 percent in acid detergent fiber and +0.43 percent in neutral detergent fiber as the alfalfa matures.
  2. Use the widest swath possible (more than 70 percent of cut area) when cutting for faster drying and higher forage quality. The wide swath provides the best opportunity for alfalfa plants to lose the first 15 percent water as fast as possible. Conditioning is necessary for hay but not haylage. Alfalfa and alfalfa/grass mixtures for hay should be conditioned with a roller conditioner, not a flail conditioner.
  3. Reduce the amount of leaf loss in alfalfa. Retaining the most leaves possible has been a long standing recommendation by forage experts. Alfalfa leaves are 15-20 percent neutral detergent fiber whereas the stems are 55-75 percent neutral detergent fiber. Making sure machines are adjusted correctly and the operating speed have the largest effect on reducing leaf loss at harvest.
  4. Bale at the proper moisture levels to prevent mold growth and heating in storage. For square bales, the general recommendations are: small squares 19 percent moisture or less, medium square bales (3 feet x 3 feet) less than 16 percent, and for large square bales (4 feet x 4 feet) less than 14 percent moisture. For round bales, the general recommendations are: small rounds (4 feet wide x 5 feet high) less than 18 percent moisture, medium rounds (5 feet wide x 5 feet high) less than 16 percent moisture, and large (5 feet wide x 6 feet high) less than 15 percent moisture.

  5. Remove hay/haylage from the field as rapidly as possible to minimize wheel traffic damage. Research shows there is a 6 percent per day reduction in yield of the next cutting for every day the field is driven over after cutting. Wheel tracks will damage the crown buds that produce the next cutting’s growth. Producers that tend to leave bales in the field for several days following baling will sacrifice yield unless they pick up bales immediately.

Source: Michigan State University 

Recent News

Robust Soybean Export Forecast, While Countries “Bulk Up” Their Food Supplies

Mark Ash and Dana Golden explained in this month’s Oil Crops Outlook, from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), that, “Despite an unchanged yield, USDA pegs the 2020/21 U.S. soybean crop down by 45 million bushels this month to 4.268 billion as the sown acreage is revised down by 731,000 acres to 83.1 million. With strong sales to China, USDA raises its forecast of […]

Identifying Fall-emerging Weeds

2020 Update: I believe marestail will be a problem this fall and require an alternate herbicide as the majority of marestail in eastern Nebraska is resistant to glyphosate and ALS-inhibiting herbicides. Amit Jhala As the 2020 corn and soybean harvest begins to wind down, we would like to encourage growers to take a proactive approach to […]

Cover Crop Considerations When Dealing With Soybean Cyst Nematode

With the soybeans being harvested a little earlier than usual this year, some producers are finding themselves making management decisions which often include the use of cover crops. There are a lot of agronomic benefits for planting cover crops (Figure 1) such as soil health, soil erosion control, weed reduction, animal feed, and nutrient recycling. […]

Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now