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Haying Big Bluestem, The Rest of the Story on Haying Native Grass, Hamilton Native Outpost

The Rest of the Story on Haying Native Grasses

The news

Every 10 years or so, Rex and Amy Hamilton get the urge to put up a little hay so they can keep their horses penned close to the house, and 2019 was the year.  A part of 3 seed production fields was marked out for hay production.  These fields were not fertilized.  The hay was cut June 12th.

Native warm season grasses (NWSG) are great forage plants; they are adapted to our climate, soils, and wildlife, are drought resistant, and have low fertility requirements.  As a hay crop, NWSG are very productive, and the hay has the potential to make high-quality forage.  The real shining beauty of NWSG hay is that it can be cut in early or mid-summer when the sun is shining, and hay-cutting weather is generally good. 

The University of Tennessee’s Center for Native Grassland’s Management has a publication, “Producing Hay from Native Warm-Season Grasses in the Mid-South” (which can be found at; it is a thorough examination of using NWSG for hay production. 

Included in this publication is the research data shown in Table 1, which quantifies the hay production of the most commonly used NWSG species.  It also includes Tall Fescue as a comparison.  All four of these NWSG species produce more hay than the Tall Fescue, and they do it with only 1/3 of the fertilizer!  So, there is more production and less input cost.

The quality of NWSG is good.  In the Flint Hills of Kansas, it is often said that these stocker-quality NWSG grasslands will put 4 pounds of average daily gain on an animal in May, 3 pounds in June, 2 pounds in July, and 1 pound in August.  When the hay is put up right (e.g. the stage of growth is not too mature and the weather cooperates to get the hay cut, baled and put in the barn without rain), the quality of the hay can also be very good.

Haying Big Bluestem, The Rest of the Story on Haying Native Grass, Hamilton Native Outpost
A Big Bluestem windrow

Now, you’re going to hear the rest of the story

Within a week after haying, Rex & Amy’s grasses had significant regrowth.  After a month, the regrowth was even more substantial, and two months later, it was hard to tell the part of the field that was hayed from the part that wasn’t. 

While not a replicated experiment, the data collected from the hay cutting and the subsequent clipping on the regrowth showed that the regrowth yield was nearly equal to the initial cutting of hay (see Table 2). 

The regrowth on a NWSG hayfield can be hayed in a second cutting some years but should not be done every year.  Likewise, it can be grazed as long as adequate regrowth is present (~1 ½ feet), and it is not grazed 45 days prior to frost to allow the plant time to store energy for winter.  More information about grazing and haying regrowth can be found in the above mentioned “Producing Hay from Native Warm-Season Grasses in the Mid-South” publication.

And now you know the rest of the story.  Good day!*

Haying Big Bluestem, The Rest of the Story on Haying Native Grass, Hamilton Native Outpost
A freshly made bale of Big Bluestem hay

*In an informal survey here at the Hamilton Native Outpost office, it appears that you need to be born before 1990 in order to know about Paul Harvey’s voice on the radio telling the news, “the rest of the story”, and bidding you “good day”.  

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