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Timing critical when it comes to cutting your hay

It’s nice to be headed into fall and know the barn is full of bright green hay for the ewes to enjoy over the winter.

Come March and the arrival of our new lambs, we will be able to provide them with leafy forage as they begin to switch from mother’s milk to solid food.

Caring for our ewes and lambs is a critical part of being livestock producers. While we take the time to care for them through the summer by providing them good pasture, it also is important that we provide for their needs through the winter by providing the best quality hay we can.

Much of the grass hay in Southwest Colorado is smooth brome, sometimes mixed with a legume-like alfalfa growing alongside it. The growth of the grass and the nutrients it contains will be a result of the efficiency of irrigation water applied and soil fertility.

The time of cutting is what hay producers have the most influence over in producing top-quality hay.

Without understanding the physiology of the grass plant, there is no way to look at it and realize what is happening within the plant that will make your hay protein-packed or just a bale of green straw.

What many producers fail to realize is that cutting their hay too late, by only a week or so, can have a great effect on quality. By waiting to cut to get a few more bales, they risk a big reduction in the protein and nutrient levels in the hay. Protein content of bromegrass (and most grasses) drops very quickly once the seed head appears. Bromegrass can drop from a level of 18 percent protein at early heading down to 8 percent at late bloom, just a short time later. This drop in protein can be as much as 0.5 percent per day during this time frame.

Hay producers need to understand what is going on in their fields to make decisions that will benefit their livestock. Top-quality hay is not measured in tons per acre; it is measured by the nutrient and protein levels in the bales. Hay cut early benefits producers because they can supply less hay per animal while having healthier livestock.

For information about managing your grass, visit http://bit.ly/XAEipN.

Doug Ramsey has farmed in La Plata County for more than 35 years. He can be reached at 385-4375.

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