Cutting hay is about like playing the stock market; you are never guaranteed that it will be exactly the right time. Oat hay is ready to be cut between April and May, but it all depends on what the farmer is looking for. If the farmer is looking for higher protein then he cuts the oat hay sooner. If the farmer is wanting a higher yield per acre, lower moisture and less chance of rain disaster that he cuts the oat hay closer to May.
The term "April showers bring May flowers" holds true more times than not. Cutting hay in April can be a big gamble because reading the weather to find at least three days without rain is almost impossible. Oat hay is mostly used for the horse industry and rain would ruin an entire cut of oat hay. If you wait until later days of April or early May you will have better luck avoiding the rain.
Moisture and rain play hand-in-hand when deciding whether to cut your hay early or late. In early April it is very hard to find a time when it is not raining, especially a stretch of multiple days. Oat hay cut early will contain more moisture and may need more than a day to dry out. This will be even harder in the early spring. The later you wait to cut your oat hay, the less moisture it will have and the less time you need to dry it out before baling.
If you cut the oat hay in early spring your yield per acre will be half of what it would be if you waited until May. The downside of this is that on average, your oat hay will drop 3 percent in protein in just that month. The best deciding factor there is to determine how much per acre you need to make, and then decide which financially will work for your best.
Know Your Market
Have buyers lined up for the hay if you are not going to keep it yourself, and ask them when they would prefer you to cut the hay. Usually the horse market prefers there to be grain in the hay. Sometimes though, in cases with young stock, horse owners would want a higher-protein hay. If you know who your buyers are, give them the options. Ask if they would rather have higher price per bale with higher protein content, or lower price per bale with lower protein content.
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