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Cool Spring Delays “Hay Day”

Historic Relative Feed Value of 1st Cut Alfalfa -Steinbach

RFV (NIR)

300

280

260

240

220

200

180

160

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120

14-May 21-May 28-May 4-Jun 11-Jun Avg 95-08 2005 2006

2007 2008 2009

18-Jun 25-Jun

“Hay Day” – the day alfalfa should be cut to

capture its peak feed value – is June 18 in the southeast region, 10 days later than normal, which isn’t surprising given the cool weather so far this spring.

Most years Hay Day in the western region is a week later than in the southeast and 10 days to two weeks later in the more northern areas, said Glenn Friesen, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives’ (MAFRI) business development specialist for Forages. But this year the gap might be reduced given how slowly forage crops have been growing.

“Things could catch up fast with a bit of heat,” he said.

Hay Day is a guideline and comes through MAFRI’s Green Gold Program, which this year is available throughout agro-Manitoba. (See list of MAFRI contacts below.) MAFRI staff in the different regions will take several alfalfa samples and test them for quality to determine when Hay Day will occur.

In a perfect world, farmers would sample their alfalfa daily and get it tested, but that’s not practical. Hay Day provides a regional guideline for hay cutting. But farmers who want to assess their own alfalfa can use a PEAQ (Predictive Equations for Alfalfa Quality) stick available through the Manitoba Forage Council or at MAFRI offices.

The stick uses Growing Degree Days, plant stage and height in combination to determine the optimum date to take the first cut.

Last year June 14 was Hay Day in the southeast, but the alfalfa was less than 24 inches tall due to a cool spring.

“This year we’re likely to find the same thing,” said John McGregor MAFRI’s farm production Specialist based in Steinbach. “But the quantity is going to be half of a normal crop.”

Past Hay Days in the southeast have been as early as May 29 and as late as June 23, McGregor said.

Farmers feeding dairy cows or selling to dairy farmers will want to cut their alfalfa when the feed value peaks and sacrifice yield, he said. But by doing so farmers will get a second cut at a more normal time, making a third cut more of a possibility.

Although this year’s first cut will be short, given good growing conditions the second and third cuts could yield better than average, McGregor said.

Most beef cattle producers tend to take their first cut later resulting in more yield, but lower-quality feed. It’s true open cows don’t require top quality feed, but there are advantages in putting up the best feed possible, Friesen said.

“It’s never hard getting low-quality feed,” he said. “The difficulty is always the high quality.”

A cattle producer with high-quality alfalfa can blend it with lower-quality feed. “We promote an early first cut, especially for dry areas because the second cut will get some of that June moisture,” he added. “If you wait until the end of June to get your first cut you get less for your second.”

Friesen said MAFRI will soon promote an improved system for measuring the feed quality of alfalfa called Neutral Dietary Fibre Digestibility (NDFd).

“It’s a bit more expensive to get the data for, but it’s more accurate and that’s why it is being adopted in dairy rations and high-production farms,” he said.

The advantage is it includes the level of digestibility in the forage sample – not just the Acid Detergent Fibre and Neutral Dietary Fibre.

To get information on Hay Day in your area contact the following MAFRI staff:

John McGregor, Steinbach: 346-6080 Jane Thornton, Brandon:

729-1387 Rejean Picard, Somerset: 744-4050 Tim Clarke, Ashern: 768-0534 Roger Sheldon, Ste. Rose:

638-2038 Larry Fischer, Gladstone:

871-2109 Dwayne Summach, Beausejour:

268-6014 Pam Iwanchysko, Dauphin: 648-3965 [email protected]

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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