Greg Lardy: Wet conditions make haying a challenge
June 23, 2011
The persistent wet conditions in many parts of the area covered by the Tri-State Livestock News will make haying a very challenging activity this summer. We are blessed to receive so much moisture, but my heart goes out to all the people impacted by flooding in the region this year.
The reason we are concerned about getting hay put up properly in the first place is multi-faceted. When hay is put up too wet, the probability of mold development increases. Some molds are relatively innocuous, while others can cause a variety of problems in cattle, including respiratory irritations and abortions. The value of the hay from a nutritive standpoint is also reduced when hay is put up too wet. In addition, wet hay can heat and undergo spontaneous combustion, resulting in hay fires.
There are several things you can do in order to deal with the wet conditions. In some cases, it may be a simple adjustment, or it might mean some additional investment in equipment and products.
• Equipment adjustments. Most modern haying equipment can be adjusted to change the width and density of the swath. This will speed drying and increase your ability to get hay put up without rain damage. In addition, the conditioner rolls on your haying equipment can be adjusted to improve the drying rate. Check your owner’s manuals for more information on these adjustments. Generally speaking, you want the hay to have a visible crimp and the stems bent, but not so tight that you incur leaf loss.
• Hay preservatives, desiccants and other drying products. These products are generally used to allow hay to be baled at higher moisture levels to avoid spoilage. Hay desiccants are applied to the hay when it is cut as a means to speed drying. Hay desiccants generally contain potassium or sodium carbonate. They are effective on alfalfa and other legumes with a waxy cuticle. The potassium or sodium carbonate disturbs the cuticle and allows faster drying.
Hay preservatives have been classified into several types: organic acids, acid salts, salt, anhydrous ammonia, urea, fermentation products, anaerobic bacterial inoculants, and aerobic bacterial inoculants. The organic acids (propionic, acetic, citric) are very effective in preventing mold and heating. Be sure to read the label and understand application rates needed for each particular product which vary depending on moisture of the hay being baled. With any product, you should ask to see research-based information that supports claims made by the manufacturer.
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Microbial products developed to aid ensiling (anaerobic products) appear to have limited, variable effectiveness when used for hay preservation. They appear to work best with liquid application and may be priced less than the organic acids. Follow manufacturers’ recommendations for application and storage of microbial solutions to retain bacterial viability.
Advantages of preservatives include:
– In wet weather conditions, being able to put up hay with higher moisture levels in less time is valuable as it reduces the risk of rain damage.
– Dry matter and nutrient loss caused by leaf shatter is reduced. Putting hay up at higher moisture contents ensures better quality forage. Depending on the nutrient requirements of the animals you will be feeding, this could be quite valuable and reduce or eliminate the need for supplementation.
– The potential baling period (for good quality forage) is lengthened. The use of preservatives allows you more flexibility in when you can cut and bale forage.
Disadvantages of preservatives include:
– Some preservatives, such as propionic acid, are corrosive and can damage machinery and cause injury if handled improperly. Be sure to take the proper steps to ensure that you and your employees or family members have the proper training and safety equipment to handle these products. Ammonium propionate (also called buffered propionic acid) is less caustic and is considered a safer and less corrosive alternative.
– Some preservatives have not been thoroughly tested under a wide variety of haying conditions. Ask to see reliable data that indicates the usefulness of specific products under conditions similar to yours.
– Some preservatives may not be cost effective. This is a harder one to get a handle on. It will require you to estimate the value of baling sooner and how much of an increase you can expect in feed quality in order for you to make an informed decision.
For more information regarding hay and forage issues visit this University of Wisconsin Web site: http://www.uwex.edu/ces/forage/.
Best of luck getting your hay put up this summer; and remember to be safe around haying equipment.