2019 was a tough year for dairy farmers. Starting off with “that“ farm bill which was thankfully withdrawn, it was downhill with high costs of animal feeds and extremely low prices for raw milk.
The effect of this is that farmers – except for those in the urban and peri-urban areas, are entering 2020 not just with a weakened financial position but also with low morale.
This makes them vulnerable to making bad decisions concerning sourcing their livestock inputs and services which will further compromise their financial positions.
One such decision is buying hay that has been rained-on between cutting and baling. While grass needs an optimal amount of rain for growth, excessive and extensive rains in 2019/20 means that grass is dense with thick stems and it will need a longer drying time if it will be properly conserved.
Should this grass be rained on, especially immediately after cutting (and this is the worst nightmare for hay producers) the hay starts to get spoiled.
Unfortunately in a country where there are no enforceable regulatory standards for hay, and with long supply chain that limits hay traceability – this spoiled hay ends up in the market and farmers who are in a vulnerable situation buy it.
Good hay has its maximum energy and nutritional benefits locked in, to be released only when it is consumed by the animals.
So what happens when cut grass in the drying stage is rained on? Instead of locking in the energy and nutrients, the grass behaves like cut flowers in a vase. It continues to absorb water and respire burning up energy that would otherwise be available to the cows.
Also water soluble vitamins, carbohydrates and nutrients are leached decreasing the nutritive value of hay.
The warm/moist conditions created by the grass carpet are conducive for fungi, molds and other microorganisms that begin feeding and breaking down the hay leading to rotting.
Small holder hay farmers who work with baling contractors are often “advised” that rained-on hay can be dried by a lucky sunny day (period) followed by excessive raking.
While the outcome of this first–aid mission has to be judged on a case by case basis, it is important to consider many of the advisers have vested interests that end once the hay bales are counted and paid for.
In my experience as a commercial hay farmer doubling up as baling contractor and a farmer-to-farmer hay seller – trying to rescue rained-on hay can be a futile mission as the leaves shutter and hay ends up with a high percentage of stalks with a low nutritive value.
Also the compaction by baling gives ideal conditions for the harmful biological load to multiply fastening, the rotting.
This hay will contaminate storage barns, feeding troughs and it can adversely affect the cow’s health with recurring and hard to treat infections which lead to decrease in milk yield or even death.
These biological hazards and/or their variations will end up in milk therefore endangering the lives of consumers. Therefore it is in our collective interest that rained-on hay does not get into the milk chain.
I am yet to come across a hay producer who has never wished to rake out the weatherman for not warning about unannounced downpour/s during the baling season.
However we need to respectfully acknowledge that balers are in business and their core obligation to the hay farmer is to bale. But I want to give a big shout out to those who, knowing that rained-on hay will soon start rotting, advise the farmers accordingly and work out an amicable payment for work already done.
To my fellow hay producers, I know firsthand the frustration (and the financial hit) of not baling rained-on hay. There is also the temptation and justification that rain ni Hali ya Mungu and kick the soon to rot bales down to unsuspecting farmers.
But if you want a long-term relationship with your customers, who will patronize your business because they are guaranteed hay that they will use to the last blade, make the difficult decision of not baling rained-on hay. By so doing you convert the satisfied customers to your top marketers and eventually this compensates for the loss you made. Believe me.
To the hay buyers – it is regrettable that spoiled hay ends up in your barns. But as much I would want to commiserate with you, if you are not willing to invest the time and resources to know the source of your hay and you have chosen the easy route of buying by the phone with your main concern being price/bale and how many bales fit in a truck – sorry even in the age of party after party this is one pity party I am not attending!
To the telephone hay producer, your faith in the hay chain constantly astounds me! Everyday. That you fall for the line of: kulikuwa na manyunyu lakini si nyingi sana, so baling was “successfully” done.
That you pay for baling which possibly has a big discrepancy in numbers of bales paid and the actual – proofs that mobile money was specifically made for you in mind. Why are you then surprised that you are left with bales of spoiled hay that no one wants to buy and yet you remain the preferred customer for baling contractors. In all this your shamba man loves you. Why?
To the county and national agriculture leaders – hay safety is food safety. Investing in extension services to educate the hay producers and buyers about this critical topic is a win-win for all.
Belated new year best wishes, with sincere hope that 2020 will be a better dairy year. For consultation on the right way to bale and for purchase of well dried Lukuai Farm Rhodes Grass hay, contact the blog writer:
Anne, Tel: 0725-520627