Sep 16, 2014
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When Grass Seed Heads Appear, Hay Quality Drops

May 28, 2014
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So far, it's a bad hay year. Cool weather, lack of sun and dry soil slowed grass growth.

Dry matter per acre is about one-third of what we expect this time of year, says Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri Extension forage agronomist.

He spoke to regional extension specialists in a weekly teleconference.

"There's hope," he adds. "With warmth and rain, we can still grow lots of good hay. It will take management to make up for lost growth, however."

Plentiful seed heads are a signal that pastures or hayfields are not producing, Kallenbach says. For grass quality and quantity, the seed-head tiller should be nipped early from each grass plant. That can be done with management-intensive grazing, which opens a small amount of pasture paddock every day or two.

If seed heads emerge, that signals the end of vegetative growth and start of reproduction. Leaf growth stops and nutrients flow from leaf to seeds.

"For grass to grow again, seed heads must be mowed off," Kallenbach says. "This time of year, that means making hay."

Cattle won't eat seed heads unless forced to do so.

In hay cut now, seed heads will make up a high percentage of the bales. The cool spring reduced leaf growth. However, seed stem production comes on strong. Day length triggers seed set, not temperature.

After seeds are removed, grass restarts leaf growth. By cutting bad hay now, quality hay growth can restart, the forage specialist says.

Normally, Kallenbach does not favor application of nitrogen fertilizer in spring. In normal weather, the nitrogen produces more grass than cattle can graze. When cattle can't keep up, grass matures and seeds form.

However, since grass growth was slow this year, some nitrogen might help. After mature hay is cut, apply up to 50 pounds of N per acre on the stubble. That can boost yields.

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