A farmer cutting a field of fescue in the boot to early head stage of growth on May 1 near Mt. Vernon, Mo.
Cool season grass hay cut in the month of May can be of exceptional quality when harvested in the boot to early heading stage according to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
Cole says he hears two obstacles to the early May hay harvest. The first is the rain and poor curing weather. But second, the common complaint is the hay is too short and won't make many bales.
"Farmers cannot do much about the weather. It seems in early May, almost every year there is only a few good curing days in a row that you can put up hay without it getting wet. Using haylage instead of dry hay is an option to beat the rain," said Cole.
As for the tonnage or yield of hay, Cole says the total digestible nutrient (TDN) and crude protein levels should be sufficient to offset the extra weight produced by the heavier stem portion of the bale.
"The stem mainly adds fiber that results in less TDN. Fescue from fields with the wild endophyte runs the risk of more ergovaline being in the hay when it is headed out," said Cole.
The second cutting may offer the biggest advantage when adding up the merits of early May hay. If the fescue or orchardgrass contains legumes the early forage removal enables the legumes to come on vigorously assuming there is a plenty of moisture in May and June. This second growth is great for pasture.
According to Cole, it is possible to harvest two cuttings with energy values at 60 percent and protein in the 17 percent range by being an early-bird hay cutter.
"Those values make it nearly as nutritious as some alfalfa hay. A bonus is seedhead removal that may reduce fescue toxicity symptoms later in the summer," said Cole. "In other words, May hay is okay."
Source: University of Missouri Extension