For Release September 24, 2006

Making A Second Hay Cutting is Not Recommended


by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

We have a dangerous combination of circumstances occurring right now. Unfortunately, these circumstances are leading us right into an unadvisable situation. Those brome grass fields and native hay meadows that you hayed earlier this year are showing a lot of regrowth right now. Hay resources are short so I've received many phone calls asking me if it would be okay to cut those fields a second time. There's never an easy yes or no answers with questions like this, so let's analyze the situation.

First lets go back to this spring. Rainfall was pretty much hand to mouth. We were getting just enough to keep us going on a week by week basis. Soil moisture was not being replenished and was actually decreasing. Bromegrass wasn't growing in a lush situation and the abnormally high temperatures were causing the bromegrass to shoot up seed heads more rapidly than normal. Because of the lack of fall, winter and early spring rainfall much of the fertilizer that had been applied was not being taken up and utilized by the plants. Subsequently, bromegrass hay yield was only about half of normal.

At the same time, the native grasses in the hay meadows were also struggling to develop normally. Again, below normal rainfall and higher than normal temperatures were reducing leaf growth and encouraging seedhead development ahead of normal. Yields weren't quite as depressed as with brome hay, but still definitely below normal. Adding to this problem, the low rainfall caused the bromegrass to produce no summer regrowth. Many of those brome fields almost looked dead! Alfalfa hay was below normal in production also. In fact, hay supplies around much of the country are below normal to virtually non-existent. Hay is at a premium, to be sure.

Then the weather changed. In mid-August the rain began and the temperatures cooled off. The bromegrass and the native hay meadows suddenly started putting on growth. The bromegrass was finally able to utilize a lot of the fertilizer that was applied last winter. All of this new growth is looking good, it's looking real good. So there we are with a short hay supply and some really good looking, high quality forage out in the meadows. I'm not surprised that people are asking if they can cut again.

The quick and dirty answer is no! After harvest there was no opportunity for normal regrowth. The good weather returned and we are just now able to get some recovery growth. For the first few weeks, the plants were working off of stored food reserves and only recently were the plants able to start storing up food reserves for growth next year. Before too much longer these plants will be going dormant. If we try to harvest that forage for hay right now, we'll be setting that plant back so that it's trying to regrow, thus using root reserves, at the same time that it is trying to go into winter dormancy. The best thing to do is to just let those forages grow and recover.

However, with native hay, you could go in after mid-October and take a cutting of hay, when the plants have pretty well gone dormant. If you are cutting the regrowth, you'll still have pretty good hay, and since the plant is dormant, it won't try to regrow. With bromegrass, you'll need to wait until about mid-November. In both cases be sure to mow high, at least four to six inches. If you have specific questions about your hay meadow and what you should or shouldn't do, please give me a call!


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