MACHIAS, Maine — The old adage “Make hay while the sun shines” is being practiced all over Maine this week as farmers cut hay early in an effort to avoid potential June rain which last year devastated hay quality.
“We cut early last year too,” Brian Wright at The Wright Place in Clinton said Monday. “But still we were 50 percent off.”
Wright said Monday was his fourth day of cutting hay this month.
“Right now the crop is pretty light but it smells real sweet,” he said.
The Wright family will harvest 900 acres of hay this spring for its dairy operation.
Taking a break while her machinery was being repaired Monday afternoon, horse farmer Ann Kenny of Orono said she never even got in a first cutting last season.
“This year, [the grass] looks good, but I’m not a horse,” she joked. Samples of the hay cut on her 40 acres will be tested for nutritional content, she said, adding that she is optimistic about its quality.
She feeds her own horses the hay from her farm and sells her excess.
“Horses need a much higher quality hay [than cows],” she said.
The peak time to cut hay is the end of May, said Rick Kersbergen of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Waldo County. Kersbergen is a grass expert and said cutting actually should have started last week to get the optimal feed quality from the hay.
“At every farm I stopped at last week, I told the farmers to cut hay. Cut. Cut. Cut. And cut it quick,” Kersbergen said Monday.
“The yield is not going to be very high yet, compared to later in June, but it is a question of maturity, and they really need to take advantage of this weather,” he said.
Last year, farmers’ hay crops were drowned by continual June rain. Farmers who were unable to cut hay in May were forced to wait until July. By then, the nutritional value of the hay was compromised and it could fill up an animal’s empty stomach but could not sustain it.
Kersbergen said the volume of hay last year was substantial, but the quality was poor. This forced cash-strapped dairy farmers to supplement their cows’ diets with expensive grain.
In addition, when last year’s bad economic climate was combined with the rainy June weather, it created a crisis for many horse owners. By the end of August 2009, owners had surrendered more than 50 horses to the state, unable to feed and care for them.
The early rain last year pushed the price of hay to record levels, according to Kersbergen. Last summer, hay that was $1 a bale in 2007 was $4 to $6 a bale. He said it was the worst hay year he has ever seen in terms of quality and price.
So far this season, however, he said, the hay is looking good.
Kenny said she’ll try this summer to get three cuttings of hay — weather permitting typically in May, around July 4, and around Sept. 1 — but will be satisfied with two.
“I’d like to get two full cuttings and then I’ll be happy,” she said.