The Changing Tides of Hay Processing

Published on Mon, 03/06/2023 - 3:35pm

The Changing Tides of Hay Processing.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

 Hay quality is a fundamental component of beef nutrition. Most people consider variety, cutting and maturity when evaluating quality. But there is an equally important consideration - hay processing.

In the past several decades there have been multiple innovations in hay processing that provide greater flexibility to beef producers and nutritionists. This can be a game changer for making your dollars go further when purchasing hay or harvesting it.

The reality is that producing top-notch hay is a challenge. During busy times of the year, spring for instance, making hay may fall down the list of priorities. But this may compromise quality because timing is everything when it comes to making hay - as they say, make it while the sun shines. Fortunately, new machinery and processing methods can help alleviate some of the challenges.

Machinery in the field
Efficient and effective machinery is one of the most important tools for hay growers. Consider how the advent of round balers and bale wrappers changed the way hay could be harvested and securely stored in a variety of conditions and seasons.

In the same way, new innovations can be seen gracing today’s market. Often, they tweak earlier ideas to take them to the next level.

Vermeer Corp. introduced four new concepts in 2021 to enhance haying operations. All of them involved some of the new technologies that we are accustomed to seeing across the agriculture industry, namely software and autonomy.

The new innovations include a fully autonomous bale mover equipped with sensors to locate bales and move them, wireless temperature sensors that monitor bale bearing from the cab, automatic baling assistance, and the Forage Commander app to collect data directly from the baler.

2021 also saw the release of Flex Rake, an innovation made by two ag teachers. This hay rake is specially modified for use between a tractor and baler. This means there is no need for a second pass or second tractor to rake after baling.

New ways to feed forage
As the world searches for new ways to maximize nutrition and production while cutting down on environmental footprint, new innovations are happening in processing hay post-harvest and before it is fed.

One of the most interesting grass-processing innovators to watch is a Netherlands-based company called Grassa.

Instead of relying on traditional machinery harvesting, drying and storing methods, Grassa proposes using a process of pressing, heating and filtering green chop grass to “unlock it” and make its proteins more available and digestible to cattle.

This method allows the plant cells, usually bound up by cellulose, to be pulled apart and squeezed with the excess juices released. According to the company, what solids remain are “accessible grass” that ensures the proteins are more resistant, allowing them to be used more directly for the conversion of meat or milk during the digestion processes. They also cite that waste (such as nitrogen, phosphate and methane emissions) is significantly less due to more efficient digestion.

Through a natural process of pressing, heating and filtering, grass is processed into unlocked grass whose proteins are more digestible to the cow. In addition, they offer high-quality grass protein as an alternative to imported soy, sugar with a prebiotic effect and minerals as a vegetable alternative to manure.

The Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma has also invested some time in seeing how different ways of forage processing can lead to better digestion. In the blog Feeding Hay More Efficiently, the Institute’s former cattle systems contract research manager, Evan Whitley, PhD, and ranch facility manager, Chris Larson, note that lightly chopping hay shows better accessibility to structural and nonstructural carbohydrates in hay. This is especially useful for forages that are of lesser quality.

“Overall, we have witnessed less wastage when “windrowing” cows in the pasture, but we have had some difficulty feeding in our concrete bunks (especially in high winds),” write Whitley and Larson. “As with any piece of equipment, we continue to learn more and better ways to use (the processor). A good example is using the processor to cover newly constructed pond dams and right-of-ways, where it worked very well.”

Of course, they note that while the process is relatively quick and simple and works on a wide variety of forages, it does increase the cost of equipment. Because of this, it may take time for this concept to become mainstream.

Improving on old ways
In many ways, haymaking seems straightforward and almost timeless. However, the reality is that there are always new ways to do the same thing, only better.

Technology and even certain machinery are becoming more readily available and even more affordable. If hay is a part of your herd’s diet, the shifting tides of production and end products should be on your radar for the future.