Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rant on hay growers

Or, what passes for hay farmers up here.

I swear, most of these guys are clueless. It isn't that they don't know how to produce great hay, it's that they don't.

I recall once, years ago, standing out in a big field at the Point, chatting with the grower. I had asked why he chose that time to cut, and his answer was basically-the longer he left it go, the more bales he had. Every day of sunny weather equalled x number of extra bales. Seriously.

I know that the dairy farms understand that the better the hay, the better the milk-more pounds per day plus higher fat content, which means a better price (Current situation with Mat Maid notwithstanding) So why do they wait and wait and wait, before they chance a cutting?

When I was doing hay, I learned the basics: The optimum time (for nutritional content) is before the seed heads emerge from timothy. That to properly feed the grasses and get highest protein, you need to cut about 40 to 45 days from application (roughly). For most guys, they put the fertilizer down about the first week of May. This is when the fields have dried out and firmed enough to drive the equipment on it without damaging the surface. So why or why do they wait until the 4th of July? They should be cutting by mid June!

I have asked numerous people and all I can come up with is: Tradition.

This is mostly why we have what amounts to greenish looking straw with little or no leaf. The only time we have better hay is when we have a cool, cloudy early summer-the grasses don't bolt as quickly. And too, any stress on the plants elevates sugar content, and heaven knows we surely have our share of metabolic disorders in our horses up here. And we won't go there on the vitamin E deficiences either....they go hand in hand with current haying & horsekeeping practises.

I was talking with a friend just yesterday, lamenting that we can't find anyone to put up organic hay. And it's true-nearly everyone uses chemicals. When they could really feed the soils with properly composted steer manure, lime, and fish meal instead. I have a hunch it's probably cheaper to apply than the chemicals, but I don't know for sure. It does, however, take different equipment to apply, and some investment in soils testing in detail. What's really dumb about this is that they could easily charge a premium for it!

And then we have so many horse people who think that any weed or anything in the hay, means it isn't good forage, blech! How would they like to eat rice for umpteen years? I prefer hay from different sources and with different grasses-some canary grass never hurt any I have fed. I feed the best imported hay around, and add in the cleanest local I can find too. Actually, I would prefer hay that was not fertilized at all, because that is what horses evolved on-but I am sure that's asking a bit much.

So that's a partial lament from a consumer-not tilting at windmills (yet!)

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