Hay Production Continued

Mold and mildew prevention begins with hay moisture testing before baling. Shown is an infield, windrow hay moisture test.

alfalfa mositure testing

The hay, in the case of this picture alfalfa, must measure 19% moisture or less in the windrow before we will bale.

Old timers would moisture test their hay by picking up a number of stems, break the stem and visually observe the stems moisture to judge if that hay was dry enough to bale. We chose to trust in technology being more reliable than visual inspection alone.

Windrow testing is done by walking through a hay field after cutting and selecting every dozen or so windrows to take a large handful of hay into a clean, dry bucket and then apply the hay moisture tester probe and take a reading of that hay's sample. We then repeat the same taking hay from the top and bottom of the windrow. The plastic bucket insures the hay probe is contacting only hay and not ground moisture.

If the first samples read at 19% or less we continue to sample to insure the entire field is ready for baling. If part of the field is along a shaded tree line that section will most likely test higher moisture than the rest of the field and baled last. If the first couple of moisture readings exceed 19% we stop, do not bale, return in two to three hours to retest.

hay moisture testOnce the hay passes the infield windrow moisture testing we bale. Later we change over to the bale probe and double check bales in the field before barn storage and later in the barn. The ideal bales should read again at 19% or lower (picture right).

Frequently hay bales in the barn will read above 19% even after the same hay in windrows tested lower. Old timers would describe this as the bales sweating. What does occur is the hay when compacted under significant baling pressure forces the moisture out of the hay making it more available to the hay moisture test probe. The hay bale in the picture at right reading 16% moisture is well after having been baled and did read higher than 19% immediately after being baled. That moisture inside the bale will take longer to migrate out of the bale.

There is consequence to insuring the hay moisture readings are low as a mold and mildew degradation prevention and that is sun bleaching the green out of the hay. The hay will always get some degree of sun bleaching as we do not have the equipment for artificial drying. An expense that would increase the cost of the hay bales exceeding market values. The amount of sun bleach will be variable due to natural ground and air humidity. This is a case of choices. We choose to take mold and mildew prevention measures at the cost of greener hay bales as a means of attaining higher overall hay quality.

Bales once baled at 19% and barn stored in the summer will continue to lose moisture with decreasing moisture ratings bottoming out between 9 and 11% by December.

Hay sampling for nutrition testing.

Sample taking is by a drill powered hay bale bore that when inserted from the end of the hay bale perpendicular to the flakes takes a cross sampling of whatever is in that bale. hay testing
This type of bore sampler collects a far better representation of what is in a bale rather than the more common method of hand selecting a sample.
We take a sample from one bale from every wagon load that comes to the barn with each wagon load representing a different part of the field. This allows for an averaging of the entire field rather than a sampling from one bale being representative of only that bale's part of the hay field.

After about 8 to 15 bales the samples are dumped into a brown grocery bag, mixed and then sent to the hay testing service. The number of bales varies based on the size of the field. It takes a fair number of bales to get the pound or so testing labs prefer.

What that sample looks like is shown below.

hay testing

This sample is a true cross section of many alfalfa bales. The different size stems reflect the larger main alfalfa plant stalk as well as smaller branches, and leaves as well. Taking samples this way will always make for lower test results than the reported test averages.

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