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Principles of hay making

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

Written by: Niels Harmuth (Agronomist)

The principle involved in good hay making is to reduce the water content of the type of hay in question, so that it can safely be stored without undergoing fermentation or becoming mouldy. This must be accomplished in such a manner that the hay is not leached by rain and that loss of leaves is kept to a minimum. The latter is particularly important when handling Lucerne.

Requirements of good quality hay

  • High quality hay should be leafy. Leaves are generally richer in food value than other parts of the plant. Leaves are usually rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals. Loss of leaves would compromise the feeding value of the end product.

  • Cutting of herbage should take place at the correct physiological stage. This is normally when the plant reaches maturity or just before or at the flowering stage., when maximum nutrients are present. Cutting later would mean less nutrient density, as these nutrients would be utilized for the seed formation process.

  • Good hay should be green in colour. Green leaves indicate the amount of carotene which is a precursor for vitamin A.

  • Hay should be soft and pliable.

  • It should be free from foreign material such as dust and mould.

  • It should be free from weeds, particularly those that may have noxious seeds.

  • It should have a good smell and aroma characteristic of the crop.

  • The moisture percentage of hay should not exceed 15%.

  • Hay of average quality will normally have 25-30% crude fibre and 45-60% TDN (total digestible nutrients)

Two rule-of-thumb methods used by farmers in determining when hay is dry enough for storage are:

  • The Twist method

    • Twist a wisp of hay in the hands. If the stems are slightly brittle and there is no evidence of moisture on the twisted stems, the hay can be stored safely.

  • The Scrape Method

    • Scrape the outside of the stems with a finger or thumb nail. If the epidermis can be peeled from the stem, it is not sufficiently cured. If the epidermis does not peel off, they hay is usually dry enough to stack or put in rows for baling.


  • AGDAILY. 2019. 5 Tips for making quality hay this season. Available here.

  • Oregon State University. 2020. List of characteristics of good hay and the steps needed to make it. Available here.

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