“Make hay in April” doesn’t have the same ring as “make hay in May.” Yet, with the record high temperatures of March, cool season grasses, small grains and legumes are on schedule to be harvested before May 1.

In fact, Rob Kallenbach, state Extension forage specialist, challenged Missouri forage growers last year to consider late April for peak quality hay production.

“I doubt Rob had any ideas his challenge last year would be so prophetic,” said Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

For years, MU Extension specialists have recommended harvesting fescue in southern Missouri by around May 10 for peak energy and protein content. This corresponds to the boot/early head stage according to Cole.

“Fescue hay typically is considered a second-class forage for any class of cattle except mature, dry, body condition score 7 cows. The early-cut fescue can have in excess of 14 percent crude protein and around 60 percent or above on total digestible nutrients (TDN). That makes it desirable for most classes of cattle,” said Cole.

Cole concedes that the tonnage yield of early-May, cool-season hay may not be impressive. However, if legumes are in the field, they will benefit by the removal of the competing grass early in the season.

“If you like to have your neighbors count the total bales in the field and brag about that in the coffee shop then stick with the late-May harvest date. Cool seasons, cut early visually bounce back quickly and produce an excellent second cutting,” said Cole.

This year the weather prospects and growth patterns of fescue and other cool season grasses show every indication of being in the optimum stage of growth for a late April harvest.

“High quality hay means you’ll need less total pounds per cow during the winter by 500 pounds or more if you figure on a 90 days hay feeding period,” said Cole. “Just remember, the better your hay, the more valuable it is to have it protected during storage and feeding.”

For more information on proper hay production, harvest and feeding consider attending the regional hay school held at the Southwest Center near Mt. Vernon on April 23 and 24. Registration is needed by April 18.

For details and registration, call 417-466-3102 or email lawrenceco@missouri.edu

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