Chinyere Anyanwu, [email protected]
Raising healthy livestock for consumption and milk production is impossible without good quality fodder or hay. This makes it imperative for livestock rearers and sellers to either grow their own or get good supply of hay to feed their herds.
This need has in effect opened a door of business opportunity for interested investors. Hay cultivation and distribution is capable of generating jobs and profit for investors as well as solving the need of livestock dealers.
Hay is basically dried vegetation, usually a legume such as alfalfa or clover, or a grass such as timothy or brome. With proper care, hay can be raised in any part of the country where weeds will grow. Depending on the farmer’s preferences, grass, alfalfa or a mixture of both can be used to make hay.
The choice of plant or plants to be grown for hay depends on some factors – climate, availability of water, tonnage needed, type of livestock being fed, etc.
Alfalfa is a temperate climate legume. It is good and known for its high energy value which also supports milk production. It’s dairy cattle best feed because dairy cows need to be fed well to produce required quantity and quality of milk.
Whatever hay crop that is chosen can be grown either as part of a farm rotation plan or in a permanent land dedicated to hay farming. The former system has the advantage of helping establish uniform soil fertility, while the latter helps to control erosion. Once the hay is grown, within seven months and plenty of care, the next step is to cut, dry, and store.
Planting hay: Use grass or alfalfa to grow hay. Grass hay is more nutritious than alfalfa hay for livestock, but alfalfa has more fibre. If grass hay is preferred, timothy grass is ideal for growing and harvesting hay.
Grass or alfalfa should be planted in nitrogen-rich soil. Hay grows best in soil with plenty of organic matter. The soil’s nitrogen content should be tested with a home soil test kit and, if low, should be mixed with nitrogen-rich compost.
Home soil test kits can be purchased from some plant nurseries or agricultural supply stores. To make compost nitrogen-rich, add coffee grounds, plant clippings, chicken droppings or aged manure or bone meal.
Till the ground with a rotary tiller: Turn on the tiller and push it through the dirt in a straight row. Work your way through the dirt in straight lines until the entire area is tilled. If a rotary tiller is not available or a small area is to be tilled, the dirt can be loosened and smoothened out with a shovel.
Spread a handful of grass, alfalfa or mixture of seeds evenly along the tilled area. Rake the entire tilled area to work the seeds into the soil using light strokes. Water the seeds immediately after planting to help them adjust to their new environment.
Caring for hay: The grass or alfalfa should be watered daily. For the first 10 days after planting, the grass or alfalfa should be watered three times a day for 10 minutes each time. After 10 days, watering can be decreased to just once a day for 20 minutes. After watering the grass or alfalfa, the soil should be moist but not waterlogged.
Applying fertiliser: Fertilise the grass or alfalfa once a month. Hay grows best if it has plenty of nitrogen and organic matter. Purchase a nitrogen-rich liquid fertiliser and spray the plant and the soil, reapplying the fertiliser monthly to encourage growth.
Pest control: Spray the grass or alfalfa with a non-toxic pest repellent. Hay crops are prone to weevil, blister beetle, and other insect infestations. To keep insects from damaging the hay, spray the crop with a non-toxic insect repellent once a month or as infestations are noticed. Non-toxic pest repellents can be bought online or from some plant nurseries.
Toxic repellents should not be sprayed on hay. Non-toxic is preferable if the hay is to be used for livestock feed.
Weeding: For healthier crop, the soil should be weeded regularly. Weeds can steal moisture and soil nutrients from the grass or alfalfa. The soil should be inspected daily for weeds and any noticed should be uprooted. Herbicides should not be used on the weeds, as some may kill the hay as well.
Harvesting hay: Harvest the grass or alfalfa before it flowers. This is because when hay blossoms develop, its energy goes into producing seed and its nutritional value begins to decrease.
The best time to harvest grass or alfalfa for hay is while it’s green but not yet flowering. If the crop begins to flower, it should be harvested within several days if possible for maximum protein and vitamin content. Alfalfa usually flowers seven to eight months after planting. Plan on harvesting hay within this time frame.
Cut the grass or alfalfa using a scythe or shears. Depending on the size of your harvest, cut the grass or alfalfa about 1-2 inches (2.5-5.1cm) from the roots. After cutting the hay, gather it in a container for curing later on. For larger crops, you can use a rotary disk or sickle mower instead.
Dry the grass or alfalfa for two to three weeks. Lay the grass or alfalfa out on a dry, warm spot with plenty of sunlight. Leave the harvest to dry for at least two weeks or until it is completely dry to the touch. In a windy location, hay should be dried in a greenhouse or a shed with windows.
Storage: Hay should be stored in a dry location. Hay is especially prone to mould or mildewing. To prevent this, hay should be stored in a place with low humidity. It should be protected from moisture to enable it last indefinitely.
Needed items: Grass or alfalfa seeds, nitrogen-rich soil, rotary tiller, water, nitrogen-rich liquid fertiliser, non-toxic pest repellent and scythe or shears.
With additional material from Nairaland.com