Help with Hay

Asked April 16, 2020, 7:29 AM EDT

I have a horse farm with 40 acres of hay. We want to make “high quality” hay. I recently performed a soil test and found we need to start adding lime. Are there experts that can assess our hayfields and give advice on what we should do? How do you know the very best time to cut and make hay?

Frederick County Maryland

1 Response

For grasses, the best time to harvest is at the boot to early head state for the first cut in the spring; following harvests should be done 4-6 weeks after. The boot stage is when the seed head has not yet emerged, but is inside the stem just below the top leaf. The early head stage is when the seed head has just begun to emerge. (For more information on grass growth stages, visit this website from Oregon State University:

Harvesting at that stage allows for maximum quantity and high quality. Once the seed head has completely emerged, quality starts to decrease quickly. For more information on hay quality, take a look at these two fact sheets: Quality Hay Production ( and Understanding Forage Quality (

The Quality Hay Production fact sheet also has information on harvesting other species such as alfalfa and clovers.

It is great that you have taken a soil test and are following the lime recommendations. Soil testing and ensuring adequate pH and soil fertility are one of the first steps to having a healthy crop.

You can also contact Dr. Amanda Grev, University of Maryland Extension Forage Specialist. She can be reached at or 301-432-2767 ext. 339.