Hay - Part 1
© 2008 Cherry Hill
a bale of premium hay and one of poor quality, most horsemen would have little
difficulty deciding which bale they would like to take home and feed to their
horses. But since the average bale of hay has one or more defects and because
the hay-buyer's budget enters into the picture, choosing hay, in actuality, is
often not so easy. The many factors which should be considered when selecting
hay all relate directly to the growing and harvesting of the hay. Understanding
the hay-making process from the ground up can help you make wise decisions when
it comes to buying your winter supply of hay.
the Soil for Planting
Making premium hay is both an art and
a science. While much of the success of a hay field can be attributed to
such technical factors as seed selection and fertilization, the critical moments
of when to mow and bale require somewhat of a sixth sense. Luck, especially
with the weather, also plays a large part in making good hay.
The story of the hay in your horse's feeder may have started two to three years
ago when a field was prepared and seeded. Often hay is used in rotation
with other crops such as corn or barley. Such grains deplete the soil of
its nitrogen and legume hays, such as alfalfa, add necessary nitrogen back to
the soil. This rejuvenating effect, along with the fact that premium hay
is a good cash crop, makes alfalfa a very popular hay with farmers.
A hay field is first worked with a plow and then a mulcher. Following this,
the field is floated (leveled) to prepare it for seeding. Hay plants do
best in a firm seed bed, not a soft one.
In some areas, the addition
of limestone might be required to reduce soil acidity thereby increasing yield.
This is especially important where there is 25 inches or more of rain per year
which can leach lime and plant foods out of soil leaving it acid. Nitrogen
fertilizers, if used, can also contribute to soil acidity.
If a soil test indicates the need for fertilizer, nitrogen, potassium, and/or
phosphorus may be added to the soil. Fertilizing gets seedlings off to a
vigorous start, assures consistently higher yields, and helps plants withstand
stresses from insects and winter kill.
When a farmer selects his hay seed, he not only pays attention to the type of
hay he wishes to grow, but to the variety of that hay which does well in his local
area. Extension agents have results of field trials which test varieties
and mixes for such things as yield, resistance to drought, and the ability to
withstand root rot, wilt, and winter-kill. The quality of the seed which
is planted is also important. Quality is dictated by purity (very low weed
and other seed content) and germination vitality. Hay seeds are drilled
into the field to a depth of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch.
Part 1 - Planting
2 - Challenges
3 - Cuttings
4 - Choosing Good Hay
5 - Hay Varieties