Hay is fodder conserved by drying to reduce the water content so that it can be stored without rotting or becoming moldy (reducing moisture content stops microbial growth). The moisture content should be reduced to about 15%. The grasses that are very suitable for hay making include Elephant grass, Napier grass and Brachiaria decumbens.
Harvesting and Curing
Harvest the fodder for haymaking when flowering is 50%. At this stage protein and digestibility are at maximum, after which they decline with age. The fodder should be harvested after 2 to 3 days of dry weather so that drying will be possible. Drying should be done under shade so that the dried fodder retains its green colour, which is an indicator of quality. Turn the fodder using farm fork to ensure even drying. Check the dryness by trying to break the stem. If it bends too much without breaking, there is still much water.
Baling the hay allows more material to be stored in a given space. A good estimate of the amount stored makes feed budgeting easier. Baling can be manual or mechanized, manual baling being more economical for small-scale cattle farmers.
Manual hay baling is done using a baling box with dimensions 85 cm long x 55 cm wide x 45 cm deep, open on both sides. If the hay is well pressed, the box will produce an average bale of 20 kg. Hay should always be stored away from direct sun and rainfall, e.g. in hay barns. Rodents like rats should be controlled as they can damage the hay.
Characteristics of Good-quality Hay
Quality of the hay should be evident on physical examination. Good-quality hay should;
i) be leafy and greenish in colour
ii) have no foreign material mixed with it
iii) have no smell
If hay is dried in a moist environment, for example during heavy rain seasons, mould may grow on the hay, which can be extremely toxic to the animal as well as people handling it. On the other hand, drying the hay too fast may lead to shattering of the delicate parts of the plant, causing a subsequent loss of nutrients.