4 Things to Think About Before A Fall Cutting

Fall is here! Are you considering taking another cut of hay?

Here are 4 Things to Think About Before Taking a 4th or 5th Cut of Hay:

1. Stand Health – Crop Rotation Plan – A late fall cutting of hay, especially alfalfa, can have a detrimental effect on the winter survival and spring regrowth of a stand. However, if the number of crowns are below the Optimum (Table 1), it is time to consider rotating the stand, and a late fall cutting can be done without worry of losses. Or, if you are in a set rotation and it is scheduled to be rotated, then a late fall cutting will be an easy decision.

Table 1. Guidelines for stand counts in NYS, Crowns per square foot

Harvest Year                    Optimum Stand

Spring Seeding                            25-40

1st hay year                                 12-20

2nd hay year                                 8-12

3rd and older                                 4-8

2. Cutting Interval and Date of Last Cutting – As you decrease your cutting interval and extend the date of your last cutting, the risk of loss of alfalfa increases.

Cutting Interval                      Last Cutting Date                      Risk of Damage (5, High – 0,Low)

< 30 Days                                         Sept. 1 – Oct 15                                                             5

                                                             After Oct 15                                                                 4

                                                             Before Sept 1                                                              3

30–35 days                                       Sept. 1–Oct. 15                                                              4

                                                             After Oct. 15                                                                2

                                                             Before Sept. 1                                                             0

> 35 days                                           Sept. 1–Oct. 15                                                             2

                                                             After Oct. 15                                                                0

                                                             Before Sept. 1                                                             0

3. Inventory – Do you need the feed? If you harvest now, is the quality going to be good enough to meet the needs you are missing, or should you consider purchasing feed? Extra feed is always nice, but if it is low quality and production is lost, it is not a good resource.

4. Weather – How close are you to a killing frost? Did you already have one? What does the long term forecast look like? Nighttime temperatures must fall to 24ºF or lower for four or more hours to freeze alfalfa top growth. Temperatures at or just below freezing (28-32ºF) will not damage alfalfa. If there was a killing frost, the alfalfa should be cut soon to decrease the rate of quality loss. When alfalfa is cut after a light frost, if temperatures increase, the plant will re-grow and use up carbohydrates and protein in the root, increasing the potential for winter damage.

If you are considering a late season harvest talk with your crop consultant about the fields and your nutritionist about how you will use the feed. For more information check out the American Society of Agronomy Alfalfa Management Guide.