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PART 5: GOOD QUALITY HAY

Prof Chris Dannhauser

Good Quality Hay, Pasture Consultant & Selected Seed

Hay was produced as early as 550 years BC. Literature studies showed that the first hay in South Africa was cut in 1674 in the Cape. The species that were used at that stage is not clear, but recently we know that grasses like Weeping love grass (Eragrostis curvula), Teff, (Eragrostis teff), White buffalo grass (Panicum maximum), Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana), Blue buffalo grass (Cenchrus ciliaris), Smutsfingergrass (Digitaria eriantha) and Lucerne are popular hay crops. 

Some of the best hay produced in Zambia is a mixture between Rhodes grass and Stylo (Stylosanthus spp), which is a legume and high in protein. The advantage of this mixture is a palatable grass with a protein rich legume result in higher animal production.

The fact is that not all farmers (big and small) have hay producing facilities, like cutters, rakes and balers. Thus many farmers make use of hay, for winter feed, that they buy from hay producers. When buying hay, one should make sure to buy good quality hay. Hay is expensive and for this reason it should be of the best quality

Characteristics of good quality hay.

Although hay making is an old process in agriculture, it sometimes seems that not everybody know what are the characteristics of good hay. The following are external characteristics of good hay:  

  • The colour of conserved hay should be green and not yellow or ”straw colour”.
  • Hay should be leafy with minimum stems.
  • It should have a nice aroma, not sour, damp or a pungent smell.
  • No stones, wires, plastic ropes, soil or foreign plant material.
 Good quality hay

Cut and baled too late

This man bought good quality hay.
This cow is not interested in the late cut hay.

The nutritional value of good quality hay is shown in Table 1. It is important to remember that if crude protein (CP) content of the pasture or hay is above 13% the animals can maintain their weight and if above 18% they will gain weight (Photo: hay on the bicycle). However, if the CP content falls below 6-8% the appetite will be depressed and the pasture intake by the animal will be low, like on the photo where the cow is only staring at hay and not eating it.

Table 1: Hay quality

Hay type/ QualityCrude Protein (CP) (%)Fibre(%)
Lucerne
    Good qualityAbove 23%25% and lower
    Medium quality20 – 23%25 – 30%
    Poor quality20% and lowerAbove 30%
Gras
    Good qualityAbove 18%30% and lower
    Medium quality11 – 18%30 – 35%
    Poor quality10% and lowerAbove 35%

For farmers with hay equipment: How to produce good quality hay.

The following factors influence hay quality:

Fertilization

By cutting hay two to four times per season, elements like nitrogen, phosphor and potassium, as well as other macro and micro elements will be removed from the soil. In a grazing situation some element will be recycled by dung and urine, but not when hay is cut and removed. Annual fertilization according to soil analyses is important. If a soil analysis is not available apply about 200 to 300kg / ha of the mixture 5:3:2 [24] with 12% Nitrogen + 7.20% Phosphorus + 4.80% Potassium and 0.25% Zinc.

Cutting stage

The growth/cutting stage influence the nutritional value of hay directly. In many cases people put the emphasis on maximum production (t/ha), and then the hay is cut at a tall, matured and dry stage. If it is done at this late stage quality will be low, because there are more stems and less leafs. Table 2 shows the influence of maturity during mowing on quality of Smuts finger grass and weeping love grass.

Table 2: The influence of maturity on quality.

Grass speciesCutting stageCrude protein(%)Digestibility(%)
Smuts finger grass (Digitaria)Early flower       10.159.4
Full flower (late)             8.353.9
Weeping love grass (Eragrostis)Early flower       11.454.9
Full flower (late)                         8.950.1

The results in Table 2 show that cutting during early flowering the crude protein and digestibility are the highest. This is when there are less stems and those present are less fibrous. 

Curing or drying.

The ideal is to cut the material early morning, let it to dry in the sun during the day and bale it late the same day. In many cases it is difficult to do so, because of frequent rains during the time of the season when grasses are in the cutting stage. Grass species with fine stems and thin leafs will dry quicker are ideal for hay making.

Sunshine and rain are two of the most important climatic elements in agriculture, but if we do not manage our hay making process correctly, they can both decrease hay quality. Too long drying in the sun (2 – 4 days) is harmful, as well as rain on the material during the drying process. Some important factors to consider:

  • Do not cut more material than what can be baled on one day
  • Use fine stem and thin leaf cultivars (as mentioned earlier).

Prof Chris S Dannhauser

ChrisWei

Mobile: (+27) 082 873 4736E-mail: [email protected]

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