I inherited a llama farm this year, and
my uncle is offering me 13 acres to grow my own hay. At present,
he has still not harvested the soybeans on the land. What
do I need to do to the land to prep the soil for, say, orchardgrass
or alfalfa, and might it yield a good crop this fall? (How
soon should I plant, and should I even expect any hay this
year at all?)
Another question I have is about doing the hay on land that
previously had corn on it. Should I use the same prep as the
soybeans? None of the land has been used for anything except
corn and soybeans, alternating every year. And none of the
fields have more than about 30 percent to 40 percent weeds
on them. In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t
even know what to ask.
Hope you can help,
Thanks for the questions. Don't worry about not knowing much
about hay; we all need to start somewhere. And besides, I've
seen the best in the business get it all messed up and come
out with really poor hay. So don't be afraid to get started.
The land you describe is perfect for hay, having been in corn
and soybeans for years. It will respond to the legumes in
your hay quite well.
I can't tell from the email where in the country you are,
so any advice in timing would be just a guess. With this in
mind I'll make some general comments about hay and leave it
up to you to get back to me with specifics (or not).
In an organic situation, we normally start our hay crops
with a nurse crop. This would be a small grain like oats or
wheat that germinate fast and helps keep the ground from getting
too weedy. The hay is seeded with the small grain. You can
harvest the small grain as grain or cut it off early and feed
it as green chop, make haylage, or possibly even make it into
your first cutting of hay.
We normally plant our hay in spring and get a small grain
crop plus one cutting of hay (this is non-irrigated ground).
Then, the second year, we get four cuttings. We'll do this
for about four years, then rotate into some other crop. This
is for alfalfa and grass-mixed hay. By the end of the fourth
year the alfalfa is about done. If you stay with grass and
fertilize, you can go longer.
We cut our hay with a haybine, which cuts and crimps the
hay. Then we'll ted the hay once, rake it up and bale it.
You can round bale it, small square bale it, large square
bale it or ensile it. Lots of choices.
Plan on cutting it about every 30 days after the year of
establishment. Weather is the most critical part of making
hay. You'll want to cut the hay in its prime condition. Once
it is cut, the best you can do is try to preserve the quality
you have. You can't improve it from this point on, only make
it worse. The more you rake or work the hay, the faster it
dries but the more leaves you'll knock off the stems, reducing
the feed quality. Much has been written about hay production,
and your local extension office can give you some solid, basic,
and region-specific information.
Good Luck, and please get back to me with any questions.