There Is More To Hay Than Meets The Eye

Friday, April 8th, 2016

For those who use hay to feed their livestock, it may seem like any product will be adequate. However, just like a carrot cannot be compared to an onion, hay has individual types. Different types contain different levels of nutrients and are harvested from various growing regions at different times. It is important to know the different types of hay, why the timing of harvest matters, and how to spot poor quality hay.

Types of hay

There are three general types of hay: grass, legume, and cereal grain. As with vegetables, each type has a different nutrient content, protein level, and taste. To the untrained eye, these types may be difficult to tell apart from one another, but the proof is evident in the health of your livestock.

Grass hay is popular in the northern United States due to its ability to withstand colder climates. However, there are certain varieties of grass hay like Bermuda and orchard grass that are more tolerant to warmer weather. Most grass hay is high in fiber, but low in protein and the essential amino acid lysine. Some areas are not good candidates for growing this product.

Legume hay is known for having a higher protein content and higher vitamin percentage rate than that of the grass variety. Clover and alfalfa are examples of the legume variety. This type is also very digestible and provides a high energy level. Although it may seem like the perfect choice, this type has to be used sparingly.

Cereal grain can be made from crops such as oats, wheat, or barley, but it must be harvested before it has fully matured. This product is rarely used unless there is a shortage of the other options. The fiber content is high and the protein count is low. There is also a chance that nitrate poisoning could occur, so cereal grain hay should always be tested for nitrate levels.

Why the timing of harvest matters

Hay can be harvested during different stages of growth. Most grass is cut as the bud moves into the blooming phase, which helps it to retain much of its nutritional value. Since most of the vitamins are found in the leaves of the plant, waiting longer to harvest reduces its nutritional value. Waiting to harvest the hay also increases the fiber content found in the stem. It can be difficult to know at what stage the product has been cut. One sign is by looking for leaves or clover wrapped in the bundle.

How to spot a bale of poor quality hay

All hay you feed to your livestock should smell fresh, never sour or moldy. Look at the product closely to determine if it is a dull yellow or brown. If the grass is fresh, it should be bright green. Pull back a corner to be sure that the sun has not bleached the outer layer. If the contents inside are green, it is fresh. If the product sticks together within the bale and does not freely pull apart, it may have been exposed to excessive heat or molded. Molded bales will also weigh more, causing them to cost more, and be of poor quality. Whenever possible, purchase hay directly from the field after it has been harvested and baled to assure a fresh stock.

Selecting good hay is important for the health of your livestock. If you are looking for good quality food for your animals, contact SB Hay & Feed today. Give us a call at (800) 652-3036 or Contact Us by email for more information about hay. You can also see the hay we have available to buy or sell.