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Harvesting Brome Hay

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There’s no secret that cutting your brome or fescue hay later in the season yields a few more pounds. It’s also no secret that cutting latter reduces the protein content.

So when is the best time to harvest? According to our Smooth Brome publication, “Brome hay should be cut between early heading and full bloom — usually mid-May to June l — to optimize quantity and quality.”

Hay Production

Production of high-quality brome hay requires adequate fertility and timely cutting. Smooth brome hay can be an extremely high-quality forage if harvested at the bloom stage. Producing quality hay, however, eliminates producing a seed crop. Brome hay should be cut between early heading and full bloom — usually mid-May to June l — to optimize quantity and quality. Smooth brome should never be cut before the early heading stage or below a stubble height of four inches as stand reduction or loss can occur, particularly during dry soil conditions.

Hay Quality

As grass plants mature, forage quality drops rapidly. Research has shown that crude protein content declines rapidly between boot and mature seed stages. Crude protein levels in well fertilized hay harvested at early heading range from 10 –18 percent, but drop rapidly after heading. Decreases in crude protein levels by as much as one-half percent per day after heading have been recorded.

Two of the most important factors affecting nutritive value of a forage are its digestibility and dry matter intake. Forage digestibility and intake both decrease with maturity. Digestibility of smooth brome declines rapidly after heading. When cut at or past the dough stage, brome hay often is not adequate to meet the energy requirements of a mature beef cow. Unlike protein and digestibility, fiber concentrations of smooth brome increase with advancing maturity. The fiber content of a forage-commonly estimated by the neutral detergent fiber or NDF concentration — is a measure of components that contribute to “fill” in ruminant animals. Therefore, NDF is inversely related to animal intake potential — a low NDF value would indicate high intake potential. Brome hay harvested at the dough stage of maturity had an NDF content five percentage units higher than brome hay harvested at early heading. Although seemingly small, this increase in fiber content would result in significant reductions in the intake of brome hay.

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Jessica Barnett
Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent
Jessica.Barnett@jocogov.org