Hay Quality – Not all hay is created equal

Between 600,000 to 800,000 tons of hay are produced every year

Domestic grazing animals such as cattle, horses, and goats require conserved forage to maintain weight and health through winter months when temperatures deter forage growth. Hay crop production encompasses a large portion of the agriculture lands in Florida. Between 600,000 to 800,000 tons of hay are produced every year in the state, from a variety of specie, land, and management types. Unfortunately, not all hays are equal in nutritive value, and it is important to know what impacts hay quality so you can insure you are providing adequate nutrition for your livestock.

Key factors for determining hay quality include type of animal, forage type, fertilization, weed control, and timing of harvest. Performance animals, such as working horses and lactating cows and goats, require higher quality hay to maintain or gain weight as they are expending more energy. Knowing what you are trying to feed will help you identify what level of hay quality is needed. Different forage varieties have different nutritive values, such as bahiagrass generally being lower in quality than bermudagrass or alfalfa, so being able to identify what grasses are found in the hay you are purchasing can also help you gauge quality.

Management impacts hay quality

In addition to animal and grass type, management plays a large role in hay quality. Proper fertilization of the crop at appropriate levels and times increases the nutritive value of the forage. Soil testing is an important component of a good management strategy and can decrease production costs and environmental impacts as well as maximize growth and forage quality. By applying only the amount of nutrients required for optimal plant growth, producers can save money and decrease the amount of nutrient loss due to leaching and runoff.

Weed control is another important factor in evaluating hay quality. A weed can be any undesirable plant, including species that are grasses but not necessarily wanted in the hay material. Proper weed control will keep poisonous weeds out of hay field, ensuring the production of safe hay. Herbicide application also decreases the competition of weeds, allowing the hay crop to grow better. If weeds aren’t present in the hay field, they will also not be present in the hay, and therefore not spread to other pastures where the hay is being fed.