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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

June 11, 2024 - 8:44am --

Although I have discussed it in previous articles, this week I want to take deep dive into forage harvesting and how it affects quality.  Each potential storage method presents its own challenges, but harvesting forage to be stored as dry hay can be the most difficult.  Plant physiology and growth prevents us from enjoying maximum quality and quantity.  To get the highest quality forage you need to harvest it early in the vegetative stage, but to maximize quantity you want the forage to fully mature.  Each producer must find their “happy place” where forage quality and quantity intersect to produce the ideal hay for their livestock.

Grasses and legumes in the vegetative stage have the highest digestibility and nutritive characteristics.  Vegetative grasses can have digestibility in excess of 80 percent and Crude Protein values of over 18 percent.  Conversely, digestibility of mature forage can fall below 50 percent with CP below 8 percent.   The intersection of quality and quantity is typically found when the plants are in the boot to soft dough stages of growth.  When you are accessing growth stage to decide when to make a cutting, you also need to be keeping an eye on the sky to see if the weather will allow the hay to be made properly.

Temperature, each pass of the machine can reduce quantity, quality of harvest

Temperature, humidity, and cloud cover all affect the rate that the mowed forage will dry.  Everyone knows that low temperatures and high humidity dramatically increase the time needed for hay to dry down.  Using a daily temperature of 85 degrees as an example, if it is cloudy and wet, grasses can take up to 40 hours to dry down to 20 percent moisture, but if it is sunny and dry it can reach the appropriate moisture content in as little as 11 hours. 

As I mentioned in an article last month, every pass of a machine will reduce the quantity and quality of the forage you are harvesting.  The processes of mowing, tedding, raking, and baling have the potential to reduce dry matter yield by 12 to 35 percent and crude protein by up to 4 percent.  As a general rule it is best to try and make your cuttings as early in the day as possible so that you can take advantage of good drying conditions for as long as possible.  You should consider mechanically conditioning all the crops by using either a mower/conditioner or tedding.  Keep your mower swaths as wide as possible and rake once the moisture has fallen to about 50 percent.  The final metric for deciding when to bale will be dependent on the size and type of bale you will make.  Small squares should be made at approximately 20 percent moisture, large rounds at 18 percent, and large squares at 16 percent.

Finally, after all the work to get your hay made you can’t forget about the storage of the bales.  If you are blessed with enough barn space to accommodate all of your crop, you will benefit from being able to maintain most of the dry matter you hauled from the field.  If you aren’t that fortunate, you should identify the most acceptable location to store the bales until they are fed.  With barn storage you can expect a 2 to 3 percent loss of dry matter.  Bales that are stored directly on the ground, and left uncovered, can lose up to 40 percent of their original dry matter.  Finding a way to get the bales off the ground can save you 10 percent of your dry matter and covering the stack can reduce potential loss to around 8 percent.

Summer programs scheduled on grazing, manure

There are several summer programs I would like to make you aware of.  First, the Richland County Soil and Water office will be sponsoring a series of grazing/pasture walk meetings beginning June 14th with their “Field Day for Plain Growers” and June 15th for their “Women for the Land Learning Circle”.  They will host a grazing school on July 23 and 25th, and a pasture walk program on July 27th.  If you would like to find more information or register for any of their programs, you can reach them at 419-747-8684.

The Tri-State Manure Field Day will be held on July 11th at Green Top Acres, LLC in Payne, Ohio.  The field day starts at 8:30 AM and lunch will be provided.  The topics for this year’s program include demonstrations of the 360 Rain manure applicator, emergency spill response, and a rainfall simulator.  There will be additional educational presentation on manure safety and regulations for Ohio and Indiana.  The program will conclude with an optional tour of Green Top Acres facility.  For more information, or to register, you can contact the Paulding County Soil and Water office at 419-523-5159.

The Wayne-Ashland Dairy Service Unit has set the date and location for this year’s dairy producers’ summit and Twilight Tour.  This year’s event will be held on July 16th at the Wayne County Fairgrounds.  The dairy producer summit will be held from 2 pm to 5 pm.  The Twilight Tour will run from 6 pm to 9:00 pm and feature a farm to table program.  Attendees will get to experience how their food is grown and will get to sample menu options from many of our local businesses. 

The 2024 OSU Manure Science Review will be held at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, OH on August 6th.  This year’s program will feature presentations and demonstrations on: manure placement and subsurface drainage, 360 RAIN liquid manure application, best manure applications practices, H2Ohio updates, manure spill mitigation, spreader calibration, and autonomous tractor demos.  You can find the event flyer and registration materials at  As always, if you have any livestock or forage management questions, please feel free to contact me at the OSU Extension office – Wayne County at 330-264-8722 or email me at

John Yost is an Extension Educator IV, Agriculture and Natural Resources, at OSU Extension-Wayne County.
This article was previously published in The Daily Record.