Late Season Hay Harvest


I’ve had more people than typical ask me about harvesting hay late this fall. Its true that many livestock producers will regularly bale hay late in the fall. Others plan to get all the hay they need for their ranch before mid-summer with two, maybe three, cuttings off of their hay meadow.

This year’s dry summer has changed many stockmen’s plans.

If you were in a drier area that scarcely received any rain, you are still looking to put up enough for yourself. If you got plenty of rain, you may have enough for your own operation but are looking to a market opportunity to sell excess. Either way, we still have hay being harvested.

The deadline to bale hay is our first frost. Historically, we have our first frost in mid-November. Taking a look at a long-term forecast (at the time this is piece was written), frost looks likely.

Another deterrent to getting hay up is the soggy ground conditions that limit tractor use. A dry spell of weather may give grass time to be cut and baled but getting into the hay meadow can create ruts in the very field we work hard to keep undisturbed for equipment to travel across throughout the year.

Perhaps a concern for some is the chance of prussic acid. If your hay meadow has johnsongrass or if you planted a sorghum grain, you need to pay attention. Prussic acid is a cyanogenic compound (think cyanide toxicant) that is highly poisonous. The condition is associated with rapidly growing plants that are damaged or stressed.

Frost, for example, or drought after heavy nitrogen fertilization are common times to see it. Even mechanically injured plants from 4-wheelers or ATVs can cause the stressful condition.

It is important to remember that it primarily occurs in sorghum type plants commonly less than 1½ foot. Prussic acid does not occur in pearl millet or corn.

So, what does a stockman do if they suspect a field may have prussic acid? After a hard freeze, or severe drought, simply avoid grazing for approximately one week. After a rain or irrigation on drought stressed fields wait at least two weeks after plants begin to grow before grazing.

Additional safety can be assured by testing the forage by at the Texas Veterinary Diagnostic Medical in College Station. Call 888-646-5623 for more information.

Finally, hay that has not be harvested due to weather or other circumstances can be used as a “standing” hay. Standing hay is an often-overlooked option. It works only where the livestock have access to graze the hay meadow. One benefit is that no expense is incurred at all in the baling process. Likewise, there is no need to put the hay back out for consumption.

If you are still questioning standing hay, it is simply forage, killed by a frost, but harvested by cattle before it deteriorates. Once grass is stopped by a frost, it may lose a very small amount of protein, but it will remain very palatable and nutritious. As long as it went into the frost in good condition, it will pay for itself as it saves time and money in the hay harvesting and feeding process.

Standing forage is obviously exposed to the elements and will deteriorate. Stockmen can expect to get four, maybe six weeks of grazing. At issue for many is that many hay meadows are not properly fenced or have water for livestock to drink.


Cary Sims
Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

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