Evaluating Hay Quality Terry E. Poole Extension Agent Frederick County, MD
Hay Quality Evaluation Factors The pie chart shows the impact the five hay evaluation factors have on hay quality. The two most important factors concerning hay quality are stage of harvest and leafiness. These two factors are considered to affect 60% of hay quality. Color, odor, and softness have a less direct impact on hay quality.
Using a Point System to Evaluate Hay Hay quality factors can be assigned a weighed number of points based on their importance to the overall quality. The sum of these numbers can be used to select the best quality hay The scoring system is as follows: Stage of Harvest0 to 30 points Leafiness0 to 30 points Color0 to 15 points Odor0 to 15 points Softness0 to 10 points Trash/Weeds - 0 to 30 points
Hay Quality Factors Stage of harvest (30 points) *refers to the plant’s stage of development at the time of harvest. *considered to be the most important quality factor. *grass hay is easy to evaluate stage of harvest. Grass should be cut in the boot to early seed-head stage. Quality grass hay does not have many seed-heads.
Hay Quality Factors Stage of Harvest (con’t)Stage of Harvest (con’t) * *alfalfa should be cut in the late bud to early bloom stage.There should not be many blooms or any seed pods. *clover should be cut between the 20 to 50% bloom stage. This can be determined by observing the color and condition of the blooms in the bale. There should be little to no mature, weathered flowers.
Hay Quality Factors Leafiness (30 points)Leafiness (30 points) *a factor of the ratio of leaves to stems in the bale. *leaves are critical to animal nutrition: 60% TDN, 70% protein, and 90% vitamins. *hay with lots of leaves indicates good harvest technique.
Hay Quality Factors Leafiness (con’t)Leafiness (con’t) *as grass and leguminous plants mature, the ratio of stems to leaves increases. *leaves will cling to the stems in leafy alfalfa. *leaf shatter during raking will leave a visually “stemmy” hay.
Hay Quality Factors Color (15 points)Color (15 points) *the most desirable hay is bright, natural green. *color is usually a factor of curing. Hay that is rain damaged, sun bleached, moldy, or heat damaged during storage will be off color. *yellowing, especially in grasses, is often an indicator of over-maturity.
Hay Quality Factors Color (con’t)Color (con’t) *a bale of sun bleached hay should not be judged solely on one factor. Often, only the outside of the bale gets bleached from “mow burn”, or material from the outside of the windrow. Dig through a few bales to be sure of the quality.
Hay Quality Factors Color (con’t)Color (con’t) *rain damaged hay tends to make hay dark brown or black, stems will often become very brittle. *heat damaged hay will often be brown and have a musty smell from molds developing from hay being put up too wet. *color is another good indicator of hay making technique.
Hay Quality Factors Odor (15 points) *the smell of freshly mowed hay is the standard for evaluating hay with the nose. *think about what the first thing an animal does before eating hay. *odor is the primary reason for animal rejection. *odor is a good indicator for molds and mildew.
Hay Quality Factors Softness (10 points)Softness (10 points) *another indicator of maturity. Plants will become more fibrous as they mature. *is a factor in animal acceptance and palatability. *another indicator of hay making technique.
Hay Quality Factors Trash and Foreign Material (- 0 to 35 points)Trash and Foreign Material (- 0 to 35 points) *this includes trash, weeds, and dirt. *this is another indicator of the quality control of the hay producer. This, as much as any factor, reflects on the management ability of the producer. *weeds lower nutritional quality, can be poisonous, and make it painful to handle hay (thistle, spiny pigweed, horse nettle).
Sum Up Your Scores Hay Sample #12 Stage of Harvest (30pts.) 24 Leafiness (30pts.)25 Color (15pts.)11 Odor (15pts.)13 Softness (10pts.)08 Trash/Weeds (-0 to 30pts.)-09 Total Score72 points