Friday, May 10, 2013

Hey! Where's The Hay?

Unlike many farms, we do not have any pasture land, so all our animal feed has to be grown and harvested. The cattle on our farm rely on hay (alfalfa) as part of their daily diet. Alfalfa provides them with protein and vitamins for a healthy balanced diet necessary to produce milk. After touring our fields in preparation for the start of Spring planting, we discovered that our alfalfa fields were hit hard this past winter. What does this mean? To better explain, perhaps it's time for a little "haymaking 101" class.

This field should be all green. The bare spots are the result of winterkill.
Alfalfa is planted and typically can be harvested for 3-5 years before it needs to be replanted. Because of our recent harsh winter, about one half of our hay fields suffered winterkill. A common cause of winterkill is heavy snow-fall, and fluctuating, subzero winter temperatures. Ice forms as the snow melts and then refreezes. This ice generally penetrates into the soil surface and completely encases the upper part of the alfalfa root and the crown which does not allow the plant to "breath." This can kill the plants very quickly. 

So why not just re-plant the bare areas in the alfalfa field? Alfalfa plants produce toxins which reduce the germination and the growth of new alfalfa plants. This can occur when alfalfa is reseeded into an old alfalfa field rather than being rotated, or when alfalfa is seeded into an existing alfalfa field to thicken it. 

Alfalfa seed is about $150 per 50 pound bag. We have purchased 22 bags so far.
We have chosen to add barley and protein-rich peas to our new alfalfa fields. The barley and peas will be ready for harvest in early June, thus helping to replenish our feed supply which is dwindling fast. The newly planted alfalfa will not be ready until September allowing us only one cutting of this new hay planting. Typically we can cut three or four crops from a mature hay field.

As Farmer John prepares for another day of alfalfa planting, he is thinking ahead to when he can begin corn planting. But HAY, it's all in a Farmers day!

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