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Guidelines for Haying Drought Damaged Small Grains


From Crop & Pest Report (6/29/17)

The severe drought that is currently affecting parts of the state is limiting crop and pasture growth.

Guidelines for Haying Drought Damaged Small Grains

The severe drought that is currently affecting parts of the state is limiting crop and pasture growth. There have been questions about the best practices for haying small grains that have been severely damaged by the drought. Hayed small grains can be a valuable source of feed when handled properly. The following are a few suggestions to consider when haying drought stressed small grains:

  • Before haying or grazing small grains make sure you have sorted out the issues regarding crop insurance, and have the adjuster make a yield estimate. Yield can be estimated by measuring out number of spikes in a given area and number of kernels per spike. If you wish to estimate the potential yield of your field prior to deciding to hay it, use the procedures described on the NDSU Crops Website about Estimating Yield under Spring Wheat. This estimate, however, will be valid only if the remainder of the season is favorable for grain filling.
  • Drought stressed crops can accumulate nitrates to levels that may be toxic to livestock. Have a sample of your crop tested for nitrate levels. Nitrate levels above 1,000 ppm need special consideration when feeding. Follow published guidelines for feeding high nitrate hay and avoid using these hays for lactating or pregnant cows. Nitrate levels will not change much after it has been dried and bailed. Ensiling high nitrate materials, on the other hand, has the potential for reducing nitrate levels over time through the fermentation process. More information on nitrate poisoning can be found in the NDSU Extension Publication Nitrate Poisoning of Livestock.
  • Nitrate levels can be tested at the NDSU Vet Diagnostic lab. Please follow instruction on the web site. Payment needs to be submitted with the sample. A gallon plastic bag full of representative plant material is needed for this test. The plant material can be dried or green.
  • The optimum time for haying small grains for both amount and quality is when they reach the milk stage. However, if plants are so severely stressed that they are losing leaves and are no longer growing, haying prior to the milk stage will result in a better outcome than waiting.
  • Weeds can also be a source of high nitrates. Some species accumulate nitrates more than others. Weed species such as kochia, lambsquarters, pigweeds, quackgrass, and Russian thistle have the potential to accumulate high nitrate levels. If there is a large patch of weeds, it may be wise to hay around the weed patch.

Joel Ransom

Extension Agronomist for Cereal Crops

Ryan Buetow

Area Extension Specialist/Cropping Systems

NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center

This site is supported in part by the Crop Protection and Pest Management Program [grant no. 2017-70006-27144/accession 1013592] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed are those of the website author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.