First cuttings usually occur in late May or early June when the bermudagrass is approximately 20 inches tall. In addition to our fertilization practices and burning the old growth off our hayfields, we also optimize quality by cutting our hay while it is at the proper stage of maturity. By cutting our hay while it is still vegetative, we obtain high palatability and digestibility. The acid detergent fiber, ADF, in our hay is consistently between 22% and 32%, which indicates a high level of palatability. The neutral detergent fiber, NDF, of our hay is usually between 60% and 65%, showing that animals are able to eat large amounts of our hay. These two values are used together to calculate relative feed value, RFV. Although RFV is usually used to formulate rations for dairy cattle, it can also be used as a measuring stick for overall hay quality. Hay having an RFV of 100 is equivalent to full bloom alfalfa hay - the higher the RFV, the higher the hay quality. Terrace Ridge Farm hay typically posts an RFV of 90-105, i.e. extremely high quality. The formula for RFV is given below.
DDM = Digestible Dry Matter = 88.9 - (0.779 x % ADF)
DMI = Dry Matter Intake = 120 / ( % NDF )
RFV = (DDM x DMI) / 1.29
At Terrace Ridge Farm, we strive to produce the highest quality bermudagrass square bales possible. We intensively manage our soil's nutrients and overall fertility. The most important nutrients for hay production are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These nutrients must be maintained at optimum levels to obtain both high yields and high quality.
In January, we spray our fields for winter weeds an in late February, we burn the old growth off our hayfields. This provides a quick release of nutrients, kills winter weeds, and stimulates green up. By removing old growth, the first cutting is clean of last year's brown, dead hay. By late March, our fields green up and are prepared for growth. Below, Matthew Parker measures the grass height to gauge when to take the first cut.
To produce the highest quality and highest yields, we test our soil and our hay every year to determine the proper amount of fertilizer to apply. Soil tests evaluate nutrient concentrations in the soil profile; these are used to implement the most effective fertilizer regimen. Hay tests, also known as forage mineral analyses, report the amount of energy, protein, and minerals in our hay. These tests are used to evaluate hay quality and tweak the fertilization plan established by the soil test.
We can manage our hay for high protein and animal performance because protein is directly related to nitrogen content. We fertilize with large amounts of nitrogen, at least 85 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre per cutting, to facilitate fast, palatable growth and high crude protein levels. As a result of this intense management, our hay usually tests at 10% protein or greater, well above the 9% protein that most horses require.
Phosphorus is also a critical nutrient for bermudagrass production, but it does not possess the leaching potential of nitrogen and potassium.
Since potassium affects nitrogen efficiency, drought tolerance, and stand density, we give special attention to soil potassium levels to promote high quality hay. When potassium levels are optimal, bermudagrass can grow aggressively and choke out many weeds, often allowing for weed-free hay without herbicides. However, in the sandy soils that are prevalent in the Sandhills, it is difficult to maintain high soil potassium levels because heavy rainfall events leach this nutrient past the root zone. Therefore, we utilize split applications of potassium and apply equal amounts of potassium and nitrogen to minimize leaching while ensuring that adequate potassium levels are maintained in the soil profile.
High-Quality Coastal Bermuda Hay
I would like to express my deep gratitude for the careful attention to detail the owners of Terrace Ridge Farm provide for their customers! Michael and Matthew Parker treat you like family and fret over the quality of their products as if they were the end users. I have six horses and two miniature donkeys and have purchased all my hay from Terrace Ridge over the last several years. The quality has been excellent and the service terrific! I enjoy the atmosphere at the farm as they are a friendly family that is sincere about customer service. I appreciate the attention to detail and I recommend them to anyone with needs for coastal Bermuda hay. Bob Pollard
In order to offer the highest quality coastal bermuda hay, any hay that is not bought out of the field is loaded onto wagons and brought to the barn, where it is stacked in the barn loft away from moisture and sunlight. In our hay barns and lofts, we can store up to 2500 bales for winter. During the winter, we load out hay as needed for our customers. Most full size trucks without a tool box can hold up to 50 bales. We have loaded small trucks, such as Chevrolet S-10's, with 25 bales. When time permits, we can offer delivery for an additional fee. Above, Matthew Parker is preparing to deliver a load of 70 bales to one of our older customers who doesn't have a truck or help to unload it.
After the hay dries for a few days, it is ready for raking. We rake our hay in windrows so that the baler can easily pick up the hay. Care must be taken to rake the hay when it is not too wet and before it is too dry. Raking wet hay will result in mold, and raking hay that is too dry will cause leaf shatter - leaves break off the stems, resulting in lower quality and yield. Raking is more art than science. The windrows can't be too large or too small because either will produce inconsistent size bales.
Like raking, baling must occur while the hay is at the proper moisture level. Ideally, hay moisture should be between 12% and 18% to minimize leaf loss and eliminate the threat of mold. Baling is usually hot and slow work. We usually drop bales in the field for our customers to pick up.
Some hay producers use "chicken litter" to fertilize their fields. What is chicken litter?
Chicken litter is the compost produced from the feces of commercial chicken production and the bodies of chickens that died before harvesting. Chicken litter is a cheap form of fertilizer used by many hay producers in the Sandhills to make hay and cut production costs. Because chicken litter is not commercially available and rarely tested for quality, it is difficult to determine the amount of nutrients being applied to hayfields until after the hay is produced.
Does Terrace Ridge Farm fertilize its hay with chicken litter?
No. Years ago, we tried chicken litter, but the seeds left in the litter from the chicken feed infected our fields with invasive weeds that took years and powerful herbicides to control. Chicken litter also provides slow-release nitrogen fertilizer, which contributes to winter weed growth. Litter also left feathers and occasionally bones in the field that were picked up in our bales. Additionally, chicken litter contains high amounts of phosphorus, facilitating a buildup of the nutrient and contributing to watershed contamination. Although it is extremely rare, chicken litter has been implicated in cases of salmonella and botulism in hay as well. Because we use modern soil and hay tests, commercial fertilizer allows us to put the right amount of nutrients on our fields to produce the highest quality, most nutritious, most digestible, and most palatable hay possible with little environmental impact. Today, we only use the highest quality commercial fertilizer to produce our hay. It costs a little more, but you get what we pay for.
Do you produce round bales?
No. We do not own a round baler and currently only produce square bales. One reason is that round bales of hay are generally lower in quality than square bales because the round baling process subjects the hay to much more leaf loss. Because indoor storage is inefficient, many round bales are stored outside, facilitating mold growth as well. Additionally, horses usually waste more hay from round bales than from square bales.
What is your pricing?
Pricing varies from year to year depending on fertilizer, fuel, and labor costs. In 2014, prices were $5.25 per bale for horse hay if you pick it up in the field and $5.75 if you pick it up at the barn. Cow and goat hay is cheaper. Contact us for current pricing.
Do you deliver?
For an additional fee we will deliver hay within a reasonable distance. However, we must receive advance notice in order to plan a delivery time.
How much hay can I haul on my truck?
On a truck with an 8 foot long bed, we can stack up to 55-60 bales if tie-downs are used. Without straps or tie-downs, 45 bales can be hauled safely. On a truck with a 6.5 foot long bed, 45-50 bales can be hauled with tie-downs. Without tie-downs, approximately 40 bales can be hauled. On smaller trucks like Chevrolet S-10's, no more than 25-30 bales should be hauled.
I am looking for a new hay supplier. What should I ask to determine if I am getting the best quality hay?
What is the ADF and NDF of your hay?
ADF and NDF note the softness and digestibility of hay and are reported by a hay test. A lower number indicates a better quality hay that is easily digested by horses. Ideally, ADF values should be below 32%, and NDF values should be below 65%.
What is the protein level of your hay?
Horses that perform little work require approximately 9% protein in their diet. Lactating horses and hardworking horses, such as racehorses, require about 11%-12% protein. This protein requirement can be met with either hay or concentrated feeds. Hay that is at or above a horse's requirement, however, can satisfy that requirement without the need for expensive feeds.
How dry do you bale your hay?
Remember, hay baled too dry causes leaf shatter and results in lower quality product. However, hay that is baled too wet will heat up and mold. Therefore, it is critical to bale hay at the proper time and not when it is "convenient." The ideal hay moisture at baling is about 15%, but a range of 12-18% is usually acceptable.
What is your method of fertilization?
It is critical to apply proper amounts of nutrients to bermudagrass hayfields, the most important of which are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If these nutrients are out of balance, nutritionally poor hay will be the result. Although common, chicken litter fertilization has some downfalls, including unbalanced nutrient content and weed stimulation. Therefore, commercial fertilizer is a better option. Finally, high nitrogen fertilization is critical to ensure high crude protein.