Now how did that go? “For the want of a nail, a shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe, a horse was lost; for the want of a horse, a rider was lost; for the want of a rider, a message was lost; for the want of a message, a battle was lost; for the want of a battle, a war was lost; for the want of a war, a nation was lost; all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”
In the early 1950s my father farmed near Parma, Idaho. He had an opportunity to grow a field of sweet corn as a much-needed cash crop.
The cows ended up eating that field of corn as silage that winter. The field man neglected to correct Dad’s assumption that the field to plant the corn on was the field that could most benefit from the leftover corn stalks after the sweet corn was picked.
“For the want of a field man, a crop was lost.” By the way, rejected sweet corn does not make the best corn silage, either.
What is undesirable in a forage crop and how does it get there?
A stack of alfalfa hay was almost unbelievably soft and tender. It was bright green in color and baled up with almost every leaf intact, still attached to the stem.
The dairyman who saw a sample bale bought the stack. On arrival, the cows were at first impressed with the hay and then lost interest. They rolled it in the feed bunk and bawled for something else to eat.
No one, including the dairyman, could believe the cows would not eat the hay. It took some doing, but we finally got to the bottom of the problem. The hay was cut younger and more tender than was usual for the particular grower.
This was because a heavy infestation of aphids had showed up in the field. Had it been sprayed, by the time the hay was legal to cut, it would have been too old and rank to make dairy hay.
The cows did not like it because, to them, it smelled like something dead was in the hay. There was. Lots of almost-invisible hay conditioner-squished aphids. This happened in southern Idaho in the 1980s. I have not seen such an occurrence before or since.
I once followed a discussion about hay infested with blister beetles. If sent to a horse market, it would cause problems with the inside of the mouths of the horses it was fed to.
The horse’s mouths would blister – hence the name “blister beetle.” Somewhere in the region hay infested with blister beetles had ended up in a horse stable. The paper trail led back to the source of the hay and the grower ended up in litigation.
His wailing was, “But I never stated that the hay was fit for horses.” Several growers in the same region started asking hay buyers for a signed affidavit that the hay they sold would never be sold for horse feed. Would it not make more sense for the growers to get rid of the pest instead? Think how much better everyone would sleep.
Once an infestation of something shows up in hay from a region, steps must be taken to get rid of the pest. Timothy hay being exported to Japan must either be 100 percent free of quackgrass and other relatives of the wheat and barley plant or must be fumigated.
Since a stray stem of quackgrass is all but impossible to see in a double-compressed bale of timothy, fumigation has become the norm. This adds about $500 and eight days to the cost and time.
The problem is that the wheat, barley and relatives of the same are known to harbor eggs of the Hessian fly. Fumigation kills these eggs.
Japan claims to be free of the Hessian fly. The fumigation is an industry-wide response to a problem that some see as only added red tape to export to Japan. Expensive and annoying as it is, the procedure is what it takes to safely do business in that market.
Each country has some form of plant quarantine inspectors. Their role is to keep harmful organisms from entering the country. The Kudzu plant in the Southeast and starling birds nationwide are two examples of non-native species that are a problem in the U.S.
A few years back the Western states bordering Canada showed up with something Canada did not like. Since there was a lively market of stateside hay moving into Canada, a quick solution was found.
Stacks were covered with huge tarps and fumigated where they stood, which pleased the Canadians as well as the stateside growers, who were still able to sell their hay to the north.
A current concern for alfalfa exports to China is verticilium wilt. The common varieties of alfalfa in the Pacific Northwest are verticilium wilt-resistant. China is claiming to have no presence of verticilium wilt and demands imports of alfalfa hay be proven free of the fungus. At least one exporter has been banned from exporting to China since one of their shipments tested positive. The nature of the test of forages for verticilium wilt is that one test will show positive and another negative on the same sample of hay. Many in the export industry are sitting this one out while the diplomats finish their wrestling match on the matter.
Other infestations of noxious or toxic weeds amount to no more or less than sloppy farm management practices. A few years back, some livestock deaths were blamed on a weed called “common groundsel.” This plant caused destruction in liver function without symptoms until the animal infected is almost terminal.
Failed liver function is not reversible and is fatal. Common groundsel usually shows up on the edges of fields where the irrigation circles cannot get enough water for the alfalfa to thrive.
A health alfalfa crop generally crowds out weeds like groundsel. A common management practice is to swath the perimeter if there is a problem and bale and stack it separate from the rest of the field. It may even be burned to preserve the quality of the hay in the for-sale stack.
There are people in every region that grows forages that can identify weeds. They know which ones are problems and generally know what it takes to get rid of the problem ones. These people may be representatives of fertilizer and chemical companies. They may be hay buyers or dealers.
Many areas are blessed with knowledgeable USDA personnel who owe no allegiance to any chemical company. Whatever you do, find someone to knowledgeably fill the role of field man if you are not sure what you have growing with your alfalfa or other forage.
If you are new to an area, your neighbors will appreciate you asking about local quirks of weeds, etc. It is in their best interest for the neighborhood to maintain a reputation for quality forages. They help themselves by sharing information with a newcomer to an area.
One hay grower from 40 years back would have cheatgrass (crested wheatgrass) overrun his first cutting alfalfa every year in southern Idaho. Rather than rotate out of alfalfa and go back in a couple of years with a fresh, clean stand, this grower would cut the cheatgrass very early.
He cut so early that the heads on the cheat grass were barely starting to form. This put his cheatgrass hay on the market a good month ahead of the normal first-cutting alfalfa. There seemed to be a dairyman somewhere who had run out of feed or who was looking for a bargain.
Cheatgrass, like most all forages, when cut very immature feeds like crazy. This was a little local “niche” market that worked for this grower.
Weeds will be with us as long as we need to grow food and forage outside in the dirt. If something comes up that is not what you planted, someone will know what it is and how to control it. It is part of the game to identify it and control it. “For the want of weed control, was the hay market lost?” FG
Tales of a Hay Hauler