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 A Prism Business Media Publication May 9, 2006 |  
What Makes For Good Horse Hay
Top of the News Fuel Prices Strain Illinois Farm Budgets Monitoring Alfalfa Quality Tips For Saving Time When Planting Alfalfa Sign Up For MarketMaxx
Insect Update Illinois Indiana Iowa Michigan Nebraska
State Reports Kansas Michigan Washington
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What Makes For Good Horse Hay
Horse owners and hay producers don't always agree on how to identify safe, good-quality horse hay. Here is a list of seven key characteristics buyers should consider when evaluating horse hay. Krishona Martinson and Paul Peterson, University of Minnesota extension agronomists, spoke about these characteristics at recent Minnesota Horse Expo seminars.

1) Mold/Moisture -- Buy hay baled between 15-17% moisture and it should be free of mold. "With small square bales, you can sometimes get away with baling at 18-20% moisture without spoilage," notes Peterson. More-dense big square bales should be put up below 16% moisture for safe storage. Hay baled above 25% moisture poses the threat of severe heat damage or spoilage, mold growth, and/or hay fires. Hay put up at 20-25% moisture and properly treated with organic acid preservatives can be fed safely to horses. Horses, however, may require a short adaptation period to readily consume this hay.

2) Maturity -- Don't equate seed heads with "good" hay. Seed heads just indicate that the plants are mature, with thick stems, more fiber, less protein and decreasing levels of digestible energy. Horses that aren't working hard or lactating may be able to get by with a "stemmier" hay containing more seed heads, Martinson and Peterson say. But hay with more leaves and softer, smaller stems is better quality.

Consider grass hays that have been harvested when seed heads have just begun to form. They have good fiber digestibility and more available energy than more mature hay. Legume hay harvested at about the 10% flower stage is usually a leafy hay with extra protein that horses will convert into ammonia. Mature legumes make hay that does not exceed a horse's protein level in most cases, but also tends to be very coarse, according to Martinson and Peterson. Softer hay will be consumed more readily, they explain. "If it feels rough to you, it will feel rough to the horse," Peterson says.

3) Cut Or Crop -- Don't base nutritional value on when hay is cut, the agronomists say. Maturity, followed by hay curing and storage, determine what nutrients a hay holds. Because plants that grow under cooler temperatures build more digestible fiber, first-crop hay may have more digestible fiber than later cuttings -- but it is not a guarantee. First cutting can often produce more coarse hay than later cuttings. But good and bad horse hay can be produced in any cutting.

4) Grass Hay Vs Alfalfa -- Know how much digestible fiber and energy your horses will need -- then find hay that will provide it. Alfalfa and clover generally have higher protein content than grasses. So alfalfa hay is a good protein source for young developing horses. But it may have more protein than what other horses need. Fiber from grasses is more digestible than from alfalfa and other legumes at the same maturity stage, say Martinson and Peterson.

5) Smell -- Not all sweet-smelling hay is good, caution the experts. Sometimes hay smells sweet because sugars within it carmelize, which indicates mold presence. Horse owners should look closely at the hay to make sure they aren't dealing with mold issues.

6) Color -- A green color is only a fair indicator of hay quality, Peterson says. "Bleached color indicates exposure to sunlight or rain, and can mean vitamin A has oxidized. But other essential nutrients are usually present in bleached hay." When only bleached hay is available, horse owners should have it tested.

7) Storage Considerations/Spoilage --Once you've bought it, keep stored hay away from water and wild animals, which can contaminate it. Studies have shown that up to 50% of a hay bale can be ruined when stored where moisture can be wicked up into it from the ground. Round bales should be dense and well-formed with twine or net wrap, and less than 18% moisture to minimize storage loss potential.

Martinson and Peterson recommend that horse owners take representative samples of every hay lot to a forage testing lab for an equine nutritional analysis. Information about sampling and forage testing can be found at

Contact Martinson at and Peterson at

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Fuel Prices Strain Illinois Farm Budgets
Illinois farmers are paying, on average, 25% or $24,000 more to farm than they did in 2001. And it's all because of higher fuel, fertilizer and pesticide costs. That's according to the Illinois Farm Business Farm Management Association and University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, Champaign/Urbana. That figure was based on costs incurred by an average Illinois farmer with a 1,000-acre farm.

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Monitoring Alfalfa Quality
Alfalfa producers and dealers in northern Illinois can still benefit from the Alfalfa Watch project, which helps monitor plant quality, growth and first-cut timing, according to the University of Illinois. The project estimates preharvest quality in the field using the Predictive Equations of Alfalfa Quality (PEAQ) technique. PEAQ predicts fiber and relative feed value (RFV) based on the height of the tallest alfalfa stem and stage of maturity in a sampling area.

Alfalfa plant development and nutrient quality indicators are reported twice weekly on the Illinois PEAQ Web site (, where producers can calculate PEAQ, enter and track their own PEAQ values, and view values by county and region in Illinois.

Because about 15 RFV units are lost during harvest, alfalfa needs to be cut before or at 165-170 RFV to have harvested forage with 150 RFV. A change of 3-5 points of RFV per day in the standing forage has been noted, so adjustments need to be made for total harvesting time.

PEAQ is not designed to balance rations and does not account for quality changes due to wilting, harvesting, or storage. It is most accurate for good, healthy stands of pure alfalfa. Subsequent cuttings for high quality can be made by either stage of maturity or harvest interval.

Many alfalfa seed companies have PEAQ measuring sticks that indicate the RFV of standing alfalfa based on the height and stage of maturity.

Lastly, producers need to balance the PEAQ technique with short-time weather forecasts.

Source: University of Illinois.

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Tips For Saving Time When Planting Alfalfa
Alfalfa producers can save time in several ways when planting alfalfa in spring, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska extension forage specialist. "Spring fieldwork for grain crops often competes with the time needed for late alfalfa plantings," he explains. He offered the following tips in the most recent issue of the Nebraska Crop Watch newsletter.

  • Use a floater or air seeder. Rather than preparing seedbeds and drilling alfalfa seed, growers can save time by using floaters or air seeders. They broadcast seed much faster than drills and just two quick passes with a flat harrow or roller will incorporate it into the soil. Disking, which can place the seed too deep, isn't recommended.

  • No-till. No-till or low-till seeding into small grain, bean, and even corn and sorghum stubble also can save time. If residue is heavy, first shred or chop stalks so the drill can cut through them easily. Also, if the field has much ridging from previous crop rows, disk lightly to level ground. If weeds are already present, spray a burndown herbicide like Roundup or Gramoxone before planting. Then no-till seed and be ready to use a post-emergence herbicide like Pursuit, Raptor, Poast, Select, or Buctril for early weeds.

  • Seed in May. For best results, seed alfalfa by May 15 on dryland fields or June 1 in irrigated fields.

Source: Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Crop Watch newsletter.

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Insect Update
Cowpea aphid densities declined in some Illinois fields last week, says Dennis Epplin, crop systems educator, Mt. Vernon Extension Center. Eplin attributed some of that reduction to rainfall. Continue monitoring alfalfa for aphids and weevils in coming weeks. Natural enemies and early harvest in many areas have been effective. After first cutting, monitor alfalfa regrowth for insect injury, suggest University of Illinois entomologists.

Don't let infrequent and large numbers of cowpea and pea aphids divert attention from alfalfa weevils, cautions Kevin Steffey, University of Illinois entomologist. Weevils have caused noticeable injury in some fields in southern and central Illinois. Fortunately, weevil infestations in most areas have not been very heavy, and spraying has not been widespread. Growers may be able to cut before the weevils reach economic thresholds. Consider insecticides only when weevil densities exceed economic thresholds and the alfalfa is not mature enough to cut. Alfalfa weevils are expected soon in northern Illinois, based on degree-day indicators. First-instar alfalfa weevils should appear when about 300 degree days have accumulated.

Alfalfa weevil pressure has increased in west-central fields. Cutworms as well as an occasional "early instar" armyworm have been observed.

Potato leafhoppers may show up in a few southern Illinois counties within the next few weeks. In most years, potato leafhoppers' migration becomes noticeable there by late May.

Source: University of Illinois.

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Purdue University is advising producers to scout all alfalfa fields for weevil feeding.

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Although alfalfa weevils have been insignificant this spring in Iowa, according to Iowa State University extension field crop specialists, producers should continue to scout fields.

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European skipper caterpillars, feeding on timothy hay, were reported in Michigan's Upper Peninsula last week. First found in Ontario in the early 1900s, this pest has spread across the northeastern U.S. and Midwest, including into all of Michigan. Eggs overwinter and hatch early in spring. Caterpillars feed on timothy and other grasses. They strip leaves, or when populations are high, damage seed heads as well. Caterpillars reach about ¾", then pupate. Adults emerge in early July. The wings of adult skippers, often found feeding on flower nectar, are burnt orange with black margins.

The only registered control of caterpillars in timothy is Dipel, a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) pesticide, according to Michigan State University entomologists. Small larvae are much more susceptible to Bt than larger larvae, and good coverage is essential.

For a bulletin on skipper management, visit

For pictures of adults, visit or

Source: Michigan State University

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Pea aphids have been found in alfalfa in northeastern Nebraska, and alfalfa weevils are beginning to hatch. Cowpea aphids have not been seen, according to University of Nebraska reports.

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State Reports
"We're off to a crazy start in Kansas," reports Steve Hessman, Kansas Department of Agriculture Hay Market News, Dodge City. Early dry conditions, early aphid and weevil hatches and cool damp weather have taken a toll on first-cutting hay. Although not early enough for first cutting, "the eastern half of the state has had good rains in the last two weeks, so it has a little promise for the future," he states.

Producers have been waiting out a cool, damp period before cutting. "We aren't getting a lot of rain, but there has been a little drizzle and hay won't dry out. There isn't much hay down yet, but producers are trying," Hessman says. "In most cases, dryland hay looks like it needs to be cut off so the second cutting can come back. It tried to bud early and doesn't look like it is going to make a lot of growth. It looks like we are going to be a little short on tonnage." Some irrigated hay looks great, while other fields are average to below-average, he says. Irrigated fields should produce a decent first cutting, but not a bumper crop.

The season has started with strong prices. Grinders are bidding in the $90/ton range for hay in parts of Kansas. "That is $30-35/ton higher than it was a year ago," Hessman says. This winter, grinders ran out of hay for the first time in the area. "They brought tons and tons in from Nebraska, the Dakotas and Canada to help tide them through to the new crop," Hessman says. "That is partly due to the drought south of us. More cattle moved up here last fall and came up at lighter weights. They were grown on high-roughage grower rations."

Kansans shipped large amounts of hay to drought-stricken Oklahoma and Texas and into Arkansas and Louisiana. "Texas took a lot of hay through the winter and is now getting by week to week," Hessman relates. "They're getting a little rain in some areas and not doing as much supplemental feeding right now. But if it doesn't keep raining, they could wean early again this year and ship those cattle to feedyards early, and that could have implications for the hay supply. I think feedyards are going to use the hay as it is grown through the summer."

Low milk prices have slowed hay buys from dairies. "Dairy producers don't have the money to come out and make big offers," Hessman says. "A lot of our Kansas dairies contracted first-cutting haylage. We don't see big tonnages of dry hay traded going into this first cutting. The offers now are around $115/ton for 170- to 180-RFV (relative feed value) hay. I haven't seen a lot of hay traded there because I think producers are waiting to see how their first cuttings will turn out. Dairies are waiting too -- to see if there is any chance of finding something cheaper." He anticipates that dairies and feedlots will chop a lot of corn silage for next fall to get through the winter. "One year ago we had a big surplus of hay coming out of winter and into the summer of 2005, and this year we have shortages."

Northwestern Kansas and some western counties experienced a hard freeze at the end of April. "There was probably some damage to the wheat, and some to the hay, but I think the drought was the main source of damage in those areas," Hessman says.

Pastures in the eastern Kansas Flint Hills were short on water early in the season, but recent good rains mean normal grazing conditions. "We need to keep those cattle on pasture there and grow them as big as we can before we bring them to the feedyards," Hessman states. "Plus, it should help baled hay production in the area." Brome production is looking short because conditions were dry early when brome should have been growing. Alfalfa production is looking a bit more positive.

Contact Hessman at 620-227-8881.

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In southeastern Michigan, growers may be taking first cuttings next week to get high-quality, feed-value hay, according to Michigan State University (MSU) reports. Although producers haven't seen alfalfa weevils, they're urged to scout fields and consider making first cuttings partly based on weevil feeding. Weather conditions have been near normal recently, compared to a much drier and warmer-than-normal April. Much of southeastern Michigan did have up to about 1" of rain on May 3. A 26-degree hard frost was reported on April 26 there.

Southwestern Michigan's alfalfa growth has been good despite frost on April 26. Alfalfa weevils have been over threshold in a few fields, and sweep net sampling in St. Joseph has revealed fairly high numbers of very small larvae and adults. Mike Staton, Van Buren County extension educator, reports that weevil levels have been highly variable in fields near Paw Paw and Niles. Some fields were above threshold; others showed no weevils or weevil damage. Timely cutting kills most larvae, pupae and some adults. Area producers may want to cut early rather than spray so natural enemies are preserved, MSU entomologists suggest. Look for damage and larvae in five different field locations before first cutting. After first cutting, check stubble or regrowth for larvae. Economic thresholds are as follows: Before first cutting, treat when 40% of stems are damaged and live larvae are present; after first cutting, treat when 25% or more of new tips are damaged, or 6-8 larvae are found per square foot of regrowth.

In west-central and central Michigan, alfalfa is at 8-10" with little weevil injury. Yet producers should still scout for weevils. They have been reported over threshold in southern counties. Newly planted seedings have benefited from light rains over the past few weeks. New growth looks good on established alfalfa stands in Michigan's Thumb region.

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Washington hay producers are about two weeks behind schedule, reports Jim Eckenberg of Eckenberg Farms, Inc., Mattawa. Some hay is being cut now, and Eckenberg expects first cutting to really get under way around May 15. Much of the state had an extremely cold and wet winter. "There was some winterkill, but not too much," he says. "All in all, we had a good winter and hay supplies cleaned up well." However, Washington hay growers are nervous about low milk prices and what they could mean for hay prices and demand. "Usually what happens when we get into this type of scenario, is dairies start buying on a load-by-load basis instead of buying their year's supply," Eckenberg states. "They may tie up half of the supply they need and then play the rest on the open market."

Ninety-five percent of the product Eckenberg handles is exported to the Asian dairy market. "Roundup Ready alfalfa is making us very nervous," he says. "The Asian market wants nothing to do with it. We are afraid once we have Roundup Ready alfalfa here we are going to have to test to prove to export clients that our hay is not Roundup Ready. That adds costs when fuel and everything else is going up. Take the cost of the test and multiply it by 3,000 loads per year, and that is not pocket change. We exporters are working with our grower clientele to emphasize that we don't want Roundup Ready alfalfa planted in the area." Eckenberg says exporters are working hard to assure customers in Japan and Asia that they are not processing the transgenic crop. They are keeping customers up-to-speed on how much is planted and where. "It would be extremely devastating to the state of Washington if we lost our Asian hay market," he states. "We are walking a real tight line out here. Roundup Ready alfalfa may have government approval, but it doesn't always have buyers' approval. In time, it may be more accepted."

Eckenberg says 500,000-600,000 tons of hay enter the export market from Washington state each year. "Roughly 65% of the alfalfa that goes into Asia comes from the Pacific Northwest," he explains. Eckenberg grows 3,000 acres of alfalfa and timothy hay, which amount to about 10% of the hay his business exports annually. Contract growers produce the rest. Eckenberg Farms exports 120,000-150,000 tons of alfalfa, timothy, grass hay and straw each year. It produces compressed hay, hay cubes and a variety of other forage products.

Vist the farm's Web site at: Contact Eckenberg at 509-932-4600.

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**May 25 -- University of Florida Corn Silage and Forage Field Day, Plant Science Unit, Citra. Contact Jerry Wasdin at 352-392-1120 or, or visit Under "Dairy Cattle," click on "Corn Silage Field Day."

**June 14-15 -- Four-State Dairy Nutrition and Management Conference, Grand River Center, Dubuque, IA. Call Dave Fischer, 618-692-9434 or Leo Timms, 515-294-4522.

**June 21 -- Intergenerational Transfer, New Swing 10 Parlor and Freestall Tour and Intensive Grazing Pasture Walk, Chris and Angie Neis Farm, 12433 Loran Road, Mt. Carroll, IL. Jim Morrison, University of Illinois Extension, will discuss pasture species renovation and fertility management. Contact Kevin Bernhardt, 608-342-1365 for more information.

**July 6-8 -- Missouri Dairy Grazing Conference, University of Missouri Southwest Research Center, Mt. Vernon, MO. Learn more about the conference and tours at Mail registration to Missouri Dairy Grazing Conference, University of Missouri Extension, 700 Main Street, Suite 4, Cassville, MO 65625 or call 417-847-3161.

**Sept. 7-9 -- National Hay Association 111th Annual Convention, Snow King Resort, Jackson Hole, WY. Call 800-707-0014 or visit

**Sept. 12 -- Kentucky Forage And Grassland Council Field Day, Dobbs Shady Meadow Farm, Campbell County. Learn more at

**Oct. 3-7 -- World Dairy Expo, Alliant Energy Center, Madison, WI. Learn more at

**Nov. 21 -- Kentucky Grazing Conference, Fayette County Extension Office, Lexington. Learn more at

**Dec. 11-13 -- Western Alfalfa & Forage Conference, Reno, NV. For more information, contact Dan Putnam at 530-752-8982 or, or Glenn Shewmaker at 208-736-3608 or

** Jan. 18-19 -- Southwest Hay Conference, Ruidoso Convention Center, Ruidoso, New Mexico. For more info, contact Doug Whitney at, or call Gina Sterrett at 505-626-5677.

**Jan. 24-25 -- Heart of America Grazing Conference, Holiday Inn, Mount Vernon, IL. Learn more from Garry Lacefield at 270-365-7541, ext. 202, or

**Feb. 27 -- Kentucky Alfalfa Conference, Cave City Convention Center. Learn more at

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eHay Weekly Archives Available
The previous 12 months of eHay Weekly can be found on the Web site. Click on eHay Weekly archives in the brown box on the left-hand side; then select which month you would like to review.

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Lora Berg, Editor, eHay Weekly,

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