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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

September 8, 2020 - 8:00am --

Late-Fall Hay Harvest

In a recent article, Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Specialist, discussed the “no-cut” period for hay fields which spans from roughly September 7th to October 15th. This practice is based on average frost dates for Northern Ohio. Hopefully, you have made your final cutting by now. If you have not, those dates are not absolute, but instead are intended to help mitigate risk associated with winter damage to perennial forage stands.

Alfalfa, clovers, and many grasses are growing more slowly with the cooling fall temperatures. In order to survive the winter, they will need good root reserves. Cutting too near fall’s killing frost will catch the plant during its regrowth stage. When the plant is producing vegetative above-ground growth after a cutting, the root reserves are temporarily depleted before the leaves can in turn replenish those reserves. A killing frost can terminate that growth before it reaches the replenishment stage. Stand survivability decreases when forages are not allowed to prepare for winter.

Another management consideration involves taking a final cutting after the killing frost date, often in mid-October. This practice does not affect the root reserves as discussed above because the roots will no longer put out new growth in preparation for winter. However, Sulc cautions that taking this final late-October cutting leaves the ground mostly exposed. This increases the chance of heaving, which is of particular concern in alfalfa and mixed stands. Plant residue acts as insulation and can help to protect the roots from severe winter damage. Well drained soils are better candidates for late mowing than heavy clay soils.

Chemical Weed Control

Sometimes, the weeds in our pastures or hayfields become very unsightly. It can be easy to overestimate the damage causes by a few prominent weeds. The decision to apply an herbicide should be made based on a number of factors that are unique to each scenario. Jimmy Henning, Kentucky Extension Forage Specialist, offered several considerations in his article “To Spray or Not to Spray” including the species of both desirable and weed plants, and the quantity of each.

If your pasture or hayfield contains toxic or noxious weeds, chemical control may be necessary if they are abundant and cannot be easily removed by hand or other means. The risk is high with allowing those weeds to contaminate hay. Livestock will typically graze around poisonous species, but regardless, they are undesirable and pose a level of risk.

Other bothersome weeds are less threatening until they begin to truly out-compete the intended forages. Most noticeable are broadleaf weeds. When considering a broadleaf herbicide, remember that clover and alfalfa will be collateral damage under that treatment. Saving a good stand of red clover is more economical than a stand of common white clover under the same level of weed pressure.

Management decisions should vary depending on if the weeds are annual- starting from seed each year, or perennial- the same plant re-growing from a root structure in consecutive years. Annual weed problems can often be solved through cultural management. Avoid overgrazing and consider over-seeding or frost seeding as ways to increase forage density. This will help to prevent opportunistic weed seeds from germinating. Perennial weeds are harder to control once established. Herbicide applications are most effective in the spring during rapid growth. Grazing and/or mowing when weeds are just in bloom can help to prevent seed formation. Waiting even a few days after flowering on some species is enough for the plant to produce viable seed.

Finally, Henning suggests a careful look at the cost of weed management (chemical application, mowing, and possible re-seeding, etc.) versus the estimated yield losses or risk value of leaving the weeds in the pasture or field.

Fall and Winter Agritourism

Taking the family to a pumpkin patch, corn maze, and eventually a Christmas tree farm are traditions for many and will likely continue amidst COVID-19. Business owners may benefit by working with the local health department to create an operating plan as both a public health measure and a safeguard for the future of the business. Preparation for that discussion will likely include an outline of procedures. Visiting OSU’s Ohio Ag Manager webpage and finding the Agritourism section can offer more details and links to helpful materials in creating an outline.

Feel free to contact me for more information on these topics by calling 330-264-8722 or emailing


Matthew Nussbaum is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.

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