Wet weather slows haymakers; seed heads become a problem

Hay Bales

Missouri haymakers face unusual spring weather challenges. More problems are ahead.

Making hay is more than working between rains, says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist.

Grass seed heads have a bigger impact on hay quality than wet weather. For best nutrition, hay must be cut before grass transfers nutrients from the leaves into the seed, Roberts says.

“If grass was cut and hay removed, this rainy spell with warm temperatures will produce rapid regrowth,” he says. “After seed tillers are removed, the second growth will be all vegetative. That makes quality hay.”

In the weekly MU agronomy teleconference, regional specialists passed on questions from producers. Most reported lots of hay baled last week.

Storing forage in wet weather is better done with haylage than hay, Roberts says. “The high-moisture grass is wrapped in airtight bags or wraps. The curing forage ferments and turns into silage or haylage.”

Livestock prefer haylage over hay, he says.

A big problem remains for hay that was not cut before grass seed heads set.

One producer planned to cut the tops off the grass, removing seed heads. Then he would cut and bale the remaining grass.

“Not a good plan,” Roberts says. “For most grass, the seed head is not the problem, it is the symptom. The remaining woody stems and low-nutrient leaves don’t make good hay.”

Overmature grass can be put in big bales, covered with airtight black plastic covers and ammoniated. By applying nitrogen fertilizer gas into the hay pile, the cell walls break apart, making the stemmy hay digestible.

“Remove the bad hay, ammoniate it and then let the second growth come on,” Roberts says.

Seed heads on toxic tall fescue pose a bigger problem. “Seed heads accumulate toxic ergovaline created by the fungus inside tall fescue leaves.”

If you wrap toxic fescue, you preserve the toxins. “As hay dries and is baled, the toxin decreases about half in a month. The longer the hay is stored the more the toxins decompose.”

The wet weather has been good for alfalfa hay production. “Alfalfa weevils are over and done,” says Ben Puttler, an MU entomologist who tracks biological controls. “In this wet weather a fungus took out the weevils.”

Puttler noted alfalfa growth has been early. “The first cutting of alfalfa was removed just after mid-May at the MU dairy farm.”

Now the second-cutting alfalfa is almost ready to harvest.

MU Extension climatologist Pat Guinan showed weather maps for the last week of May. Forecasts call for above-average precipitation and temperatures.

“Temperatures will be more like the last week of June, not May,” Guinan says.

“On average, May rainfall runs a little over an inch a week,” he says “For the last week of May, forecasts show 1.5 to 4 more inches of rain, with heaviest in far northwest Missouri.”

That is good for grass growth, Roberts says.

MU agronomists urged scouting crops for fungal diseases and blights. “Heavy white clover growth in pastures calls for bloat watch for grazing livestock,” Roberts says. Also, high temperatures could bring a fungus to clover that causes slobbers, especially in horses.

Regional MU Extension agronomists are available through local extension centers. They are backed up by the MU plant diagnostic lab and state specialists.