Hay was first produced in Oklahoma by early settlers and continues today to be an important feed for livestock. Hay comes from wild plants (primarily native grasses) or cultivated plants, such as alfalfa (Medicago sativa), bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea). It is an essential factor in raising cattle and is one of the leading crops in Oklahoma and the United States. Without hay, Oklahoma's billion-dollar-plus cattle industry would not exist. Horses also consume large quantities of both grass and alfalfa hay.
Grass hay is important throughout Oklahoma where farm animals are raised. Beef and dairy cattlemen produce much of the state's hay for use on farms. Alfalfa is produced for on-farm use and as a cash crop, much of which is exported to Texas. Most alfalfa is grown in the central and western part of Oklahoma (Grady County led the state with 55,300 tons of alfalfa hay in 1963 and 107,000 tons in 2000) and is baled for storage and transport. Oklahoma produces more than a million tons of alfalfa hay valued at $80 to $120 per ton, resulting in $100 million to $150 million per year value to the state. Most grass hay and clover-grass mixed hay in Oklahoma is grown in the eastern part of the state (Craig County yielded 53,381 tons of native meadow hay at 1907 statehood and Muskogee County produced 111,000 tons in 2000) and is used for on-farm support of the cow-calf industry.
Hay processing is not complicated. Green forage is mown and left spread in the field or is stacked in windrows for drying. It should dry quickly and uniformly or its nutritive value and palatability may be reduced by exposure to rain. If it falls while or after the hay dries, rain leaches the hay's soluble nutrients and causes leaves to be lost. Leaves tend to be the most nutritious part of forage crops. Once hay dries, it should be stored in a barn (in bales or loose), where it can remain for decades without appreciable deterioration. Low-quality hay is frequently stored outside, but it loses dry matter and nutrients and is nearly worthless within a few months.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Donald M. Ball, Carl S. Hoveland, and Garry D. Lacefield, Southern Forages (2d ed.; Norcross, Ga.: Potash and Phosphate Institute, Foundation for Agronomic Research, 1996). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 21 May 2000.
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