Leaving hay bales in the fields is a lost opportunity

File photo
File photo

Gerry Giggins

Driving through any part of the country over the past six weeks, it is obvious how much hay has been made.

The old art of hay making and the long laborious process that it once was, has nowadays been superseded by a much quicker and easier process, provided of course that we get favourable weather.

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One drawback to the large quantities of hay that have been made is that those looking to trade it are meeting lower prices and sluggish demand.

Traditionally, when good hay was made it always commanded a premium price, especially when supplying some of the niche markets, such as the equine sector.

However, nowadays given the added handling, storage requirements and the unpredictability of its quality, hay is only made as a result of exceptional periods of weather rather than as part of a forage supply plan on many farms.

As mentioned earlier, one can't but notice the amount of hay bales that were made up to six weeks ago but are still in fields with grass regrowing around them. This is a lost opportunity for all concerned, especially as it was only 12 months ago that we had to travel to continental Europe to acquire fodder.

The old adage of 'hay in the barn is as good as money in the bank' was never more appropriate.

Hay prices have collapsed and are now under further pressure given the availability and abundance of high quality winter barley and oaten straw.

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Round bales of hay are trading as low as €12 collected, with sellers finding it hard to find customers. Purchasing good quality hay at current prices makes huge sense, provided storage capacity and cash flow allow.

Given current bale prices, hay is costing €70 per tonn e (equating to €85 per tonne of dry matter).

When comparing this price with what was paid for questionable quality imported forages last year, it makes great sense.

Studying the feed analysis of hay, like all forages it can vary hugely depending on grass varieties, land type, harvest conditions etc. The drying out process of grass as it is being made into hay results in energy and protein losses.

However, what counteracts those losses is its palatability and the desire of all ruminants to select hay over all other forage types.

Dried grass will contain a much higher density of beneficial mineral and vitamins in comparison to wet forages and this is generally witnessed by the good health and visual appearance of animals fed on hay. Grazing land with particularly high levels of molybdenum, which acts as an antagonist to copper uptake, when cut for silage can have dangerously high levels but when made as hay these levels won't be as high.

Traditionally, hay was seen as the ideal complement to milk and concentrates for rearing calves but nowadays straw is more commonly used.

Research has shown that calves fed with straw will develop rumen function much quicker and will show less signs of being 'pot bellied'.

For beef farmers purchasing weanlings or store cattle, the biggest challenge is to get these cattle settled in their new surroundings and eating. This is always best done by providing straw bedding and an ample supply of good hay for 24-48 hours.

From time to time, there will be sick animals or animals with digestive upsets on the farm, the best way to get an animal back eating and rejuvenated is by having it eat hay and drinking fresh, clean water.

By nature of the average harvest date, the land that was used for hay making this summer, more than likely wasn't grazed since last autumn.

With hay bales still occupying many fields, these fields have nearly gone a full year cycle without seeing any livestock. There are of course lots of questions to be asked surrounding the reasons for this situation?

Indo Farming


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