Harvesting Timothy Hay For Export
harvest management can double the value of timothy hay.
Producers should consider reconditioning timothy hay and pay special
attention to moisture levels when baling.
Harvesting Timothy Hay | Reconditioning | Moisture | Determining Moisture Content
of top quality timothy hay rely heavily on visual appearance
and other subjective aspects when pricing hay. It is important
to be aware of these quality factors when harvesting. Requirements
for premium hay include celery green colour, long coarse stems,
long heads, no brown leaves, no weeds, mold or soil, agropyron
(Hessian fly host) free, and dryness (less than 12% moisture).
Hay which is dry and contains some green colour is still exportable,
however the price is reduced substantially.
Tip For Harvesting Timothy Hay
The real magic of harvest comes with ones ability to predict the
weather. Items to consider during harvest;
- The ideal time to cut is just before bloom (when the emerged
head is covered with "velvet"). At that time plant dry
down will be the quickest, and quality and yield will
producers will cut any time after complete heading if
there is a good weather window. Use a weather forecasting
service and cut around the weather.
swaths for maximum drying; making use of winds and the
lay of the land. High, narrow swaths maximize wind use
and minimize bleaching. An initial wide swath with subsequent
raking to a narrow, tall swath is also practiced depending
height should be set to cut above "dead bottom". A producer
can eliminate many brown leaves if cutting height is raised
crimped stems and set crimper for the maximum number of
crimps possible. Unlike legumes, grasses lose few leaves
even with aggressive crimping.
turning, tedding, raking or reconditioning should all
be considered to speed up drying
A popular management technique used in Alberta to speed up the
drying process of timothy hay is the use of reconditioners.
The machine most commonly used is a NH 411 disc bine. The
411 is popular because it is very easy to convert into a reconditioner.
It also has a wide conditioner with the right kind of rolls,
adjustable swath fanning deflectors for rebuilding the perfect
swath, and a hydraulic swing hitch and lift for easy transport.
Conversion simply means removing the disc cutter head, adding some counter
weight to the right side, and installing a CV universal joint
in the drive line at the gear box. The CV joint allows the
operator to run with the hitch in a narrower position. Skid
shoes are also needed to prevent the rolls from digging into
the ground. The machine can be operated at speeds as high
as 6-8 mph.
Older pull behind conditioners have also been used, however, they
are not as aggressive and they require one to straddle and
sometimes pack the swath. Also, operating speed would be considerably
less with older conditioning machines.
Most producers using reconditioners use them on the day they expect
to bale, as soon as the dew is off. The dry down from fresh-cut
to about 20% is easy and quick. It's that last few percentage
points that seem to be the slowest. This is also a time when
the most damage can be done as a result of a rain. Reconditioning
splits the stems and refluffs the swath resulting in rapid
dry down. It works well in facilitating the removal of the
last 5% moisture. Producers claim that it shakes out some
of the brown leaves and, in general, the processors say it
improves the compressibility of the hay when processed. It
is generally believed that re-conditioning will reduce dry
down time by one day. Losses on pure grass stands are minimal.
On mixed stands of legume-grass or straight legume leaf loss
would be a major concern.
Hay must be 12% moisture or less before it can be processed for
export. Most producers will use a combination of the twist
test and a moisture meter to determine if the hay is dry.
Use of a microwave is a good method to determine exact moisture.
Details on the use of a microwave for moisture testing are
On hot days moisture meters can be very inaccurate. Moisture
readings on hay known to contain 22% moisture have been as
low as 10-12% on very hot days. Curing of hay is a reference
to the internal stem moisture. Hay can seem dry on the outside
and test dry with the use of a meter. However, if the moisture
that is remaining in they hay is contained within the stem,
spoilage problems can arise.
After the initial heating and drying period, hay is relatively stable.
Moisture readings in a freshly baled stack will increase by
2-3% during what is called a "sweat" period. This can last
for up to 3 weeks after harvest and varies depending on original
moisture and the density of the bales. There is some respiration
and microbial action even in a dry stable hay. Dry matter
losses of 0.5% per month have been recorded on dry hay during
the Microwave Oven for Determining
the Moisture Content of Forages
Knowing the moisture content of the forage when haying is critical.
One way to test your hay for moisture uses an appliance found
in most farm kitchens - THE MICROWAVE OVEN.
In addition to the microwave oven, a person needs:
- a kitchen scale (or scale that can accurately weigh a 100
paper bag or plate
small glass of water
- a calculator (optional)
When the sample is dry the moisture content is calculated as follows:
- Take a representative sample of forage from your Timothy hay
swaths and cut into 1/4" to 1/2" pieces.
- Mix your sample and weigh out approximately 100 grams (wet
weight) excluding the weight of the container. Record
the weight (wet weight).
the sample in the paper bag or spread thinly on the paper
plate in the microwave. Also place a glass of water in
the microwave to prevent the sample from catching fire.
the microwave on high for 3-4 minutes.
- Reweigh the sample and record its weight. Stir the sample to remove
- Place the sample back in the microwave and reheat at 1-2 minute
intervals. Record the weight, and stir the sample again.
- Repeat Step 6 until the sample looses less than 1 gram between
heatings. When this occurs it will be dry (dry weight).
A slightly charred sample should not affect the accuracy
of the moisture determination, but if the sample burns,
the test should be repeated.
(wet weight) - (dry weight) x 100 = moisture content x 100 = 14% moisture
100 grams - 86 grams x 100 = 14% moisture
This method is quick, simple and accurate. While drying the sample,
always watch to ensure it doesn't burn.
Kevin Yaworski, Forage Agronomist, Eastern/Interlake Region
more information, please contact your district Manitoba Agriculture
and Food Office.
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