Hay Production Question

Do hay producers have to reseed their fields every year or does hay just grow back just like any other perennial grass?

Alfalfa, clover, etc are all perennials.

Bermuda grass and all native grasses will grow back like any yard… Wheat, milo, corn stalks, require one to plant it every year.

But legume hays including alfalfa and timothy are used in rotational schemes. In that case they would be plowed under for the next rotation after a year. In Michigan it was corn-soy-alfalfa-fallow.

My impression is that most horse hay is planted every year, while cows eat whatever’s growing tall enough. Probably depends on where you are, though.

ETA: there are meadow plants poisonous to horses and fine for cows (esp buttercups) so you can’t necessarily just bale whatever and feed it to horses; plus cows can get more nutritional value out of marginal forage than horses can. Horse hay has to be pretty “clean,” buyers are picky.

Note also, in harvesting grass-type hay (oats, barley, etc.), the grass in cut while the seed heads are still on the stalk (at least mostly). The whole idea is to have your horses eating the seeds along with the stalks and leaves, as that’s where a lot of the nutrition is. So you don’t get a whole lot of seed left behind on the ground after the harvest. Some, of course, but not enough to grow a whole crop the next year.

I hope there is a farmer out there. Just what is hay? Or straw? I being a city boy always thought that there was a specific hay plant that the farmers planted and harvested. Also is hay a food for horses and cattle? It doesn’t look too nutritious. Is it the same stuff put down on the floor of horse stables?

Straw is a generic term for the stalks of cereal (grain) plants.

As above, Alfalfa (a legume) and Timothy (grass) are the most common types of Hay. Neither are cereal ‘straw’.

From Wiki

Straw on the the other hand is the stalks leftover after wheat is harvested. The seed heads have been removed and threshed. Straw is used for animal bedding as well as erosion control.

Some of my relatives grow alfalfa, both for hay and seed. They plow it under in the fall and replant anew in the spring. For seed, they have a crop duster spray herbicide on the fields when the seed is about ready. They then let the field dry and combine it (that’s harvesting the grain to you city slickers). It’s easier to separate the seeds when the hay is dry and killing it all at once makes it all sync up for a more complete harvest. Once it’s dead, of course it’s no good for next year anyway.

Weeds are a big problem, so trying to keep last year’s hay crop going isn’t viable.

For hay, they usually get two or 3 cuttings a summer in their locale. While the 3rd cutting is considered a bonus, it’s also obviously going downhill in terms of yield and quality.

In the very simplest and most general terms, hay is what animals eat and straw is what they sleep on.

Alfalfa is a perennial in all but the coldest regions. Where I live (Eastern Oregon) a field of alfalfa is usually good for 5-8 years of hay production or 2-4 years of seed production before it is rotated out. The herbicide used to prep the field for seed harvest is usually a defoliant or dessicant that simply burns back the stems & leaves, but does not damage the root. The crop will grow back the following year.

The 2-4 year limit on seed fields is not absolute, by the way. One of my neighbors had an alfalfa seed field - an old heirloom variety - that had been in production for over 40 years. The field lay In an area that was entirely sub-irrigated and was strongly fenced; hence, it had never received any surface irrigation water nor traffic by large livestock or wildlife, and as a result was virtually weed-free.

In my area, alfalfa and orchard grass grown in combination or seperately are the most common hay crops. Oats are also used widely, but are generally grown where a more frequent rotation is required, as they must be re-seeded each year.

Also, not all grass used for hay grows in fields. Around here they are allowed to cut and bale the grass in the road ditches. I doubt very much that is maintained like an alfalfa or rye field.

For example, when wheat is cut, what’s left on the ground is called stubble. This can be cut to make straw. Straw has no nutritional value but can be fed as roughage and supplemented with other feed, or you can line pens or put it in your garden.

Most quality horse or cattle hay is made from clean fields of alfalfa or common grasses (like letting your yard grow for 3 months) that are cut into rows where it dry’s for a few days then made into bales to be fed.
http://pearlsnapsponderings.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/forage-facts-forage-analysis-interpretation/ (The picture towards the bottom)

You never know what kind of things are growing in the ditches (thistles and stressed Johnson Grass are not so good). You can feed an old cow about anything but if you’re baling up beer cans, wire, and all the other good things people donate to the ditch, might not be the best quality hay.

Hay fed to horses is either legume (alfalfa) or grass hay. Alfalfa is a much better (higher nutrition) kind of hay than grass hay. In fact, it’s often too nutritious for many modern horses that don’t do much work (‘pasture pets’) – you have to feed them only a very small amount, which doesn’t keep them busy eating very long, so they develop bad habits. (Horses are evolved to eat nearly constantly all day long, at not particularly nutritious feed. Horses have a rather delicate digestive system, and are prone to problems from over-rich feed (founder) and intestinal blockages (colic). Cows, on the other hand, with their multiple stomachs, can eat almost anything – including dusty, moldy hay that you would never dare feed to horses.)

Growing hay depends on the soil & fertilizer. All hay is a perennial crop, and will keep growing year after year. But the quality & quantity produced will usually decline. It’s often plowed under and a new crop planted to get the best yield from the fields.

On our farm (western Minnesota), we typically harvest alfalfa for 3 years. But we have pretty good soil, and use a fair amount of organic fertilizer. That isn’t true for all farmland. Also, we were growing for our own use, so economic considerations weren’t so important. But you will sometimes see a still-productive hay field plowed up and planted in another crop like corn or soybeans, because the price of that crop is expected to be much higher this year.

BTW, in my experience, using straw as a bedding is so rare anymore, its quite a novelty when you do see it. I can only think of ever having seen it in general use once (at Foxcroft, a girls’ boarding school in Virginia, where I was assiting a friend at a comeptition).

However, I believe straw is still the preferred bedding for birthing mares.

So, what is used instead?

Wood shavings, mainly. Usually with rubber mats underneath.

Unlike straw, shavings soak up urine and it’s much easier to clean up the poops and the wet spots than strip the stall every day, as you must with straw because the pee just goes under the straw and sits around making everything gross.

A few horses in every barn have filthy habits and need to have their stall practically emptied of shavings anyway… but there’s a big difference between emptying the 2 stalls that need it and emptying 40 stalls.

And the key reason for the difference is that straw is the remains of dead, dry stalks, whereas hay is dried plants that were cut whilst still in fresh, growing condition.

It’s possible to make hay or straw from the same species, depending on the moment of harvest and the treatment afterwards.

Silage is quite popular here in the UK, which is essentially pickled non-dried hay.