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Rainy weather alters plans for cutting hay

Summer finally arrives this week, hopefully accompanied by sunshine and warmth. People, animals and fields need a little time to dry out. Hayfields are waiting to be cut and corn plants are aching for heat so they can start to grow.
Last month we looked at grasses and how the early dry weather has allowed farmers to get an early start on fieldwork. What a difference a month makes! Heavy rains in May and so far in June have set farmers back in their yearly forage planning. Most farmers completed all or most of their first cutting of hay and had begun their second when the skies opened up. Most years, farmers expect four or more cuttings of hay.
Corn is a grass as well, but it is an annual grass rather than a perennial and is cut only once in the fall. In June the young plants are still becoming established. A wet spring like we are experiencing this year can result in a shallow root system (especially on our Addison County clay soils) so if things dry up later the roots won’t be able to reach the moisture. Corn requires hot, humid days and warm nights for rapid growth, something we’ve lacked so far this year.
Unlike field corn grown for grain, dairy farmers chop the entire plant for feeding to their animals. Field corn harvest is usually measured in bushels; in dairy country we generally measure harvests in tons to the acre. Yields on our Addison County clay soils generally average around 15 tons to the acre (depending on corn variety and weather conditions). Yields are higher on sandy soil. Dairy diets commonly consist of 40-50 percent grain and the remainder corn and grass silage in roughly equal proportions. At average yields and feeding rates, an acre of corn will feed a herd of 100 milking cows for about 12 days.
Dairy farmers have many choices to make when planting corn. There are many, many corn varieties that have different characteristics depending on soil types and weather conditions. Purchasing corn seed and growing corn is expensive, so a successful crop is important for the farmers. Fields are usually rotated back to perennial grasses every three years or so on clay, less often on sandy soil.
Later this fall, when corn is being harvested, we’ll look at how farmers harvest and store corn for feeding to their animals and how they use nutrients found in corn to balance dairy diets. Until then let’s all hope for some sun and warm weather!

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