Kentucky's Hay Industry
Hay is grass and leafy plants that has been cut and dried to feed to livestock. Hay is provided when grazing animals do not have access to enough forage: winter months, times of drought, or when they have to be kept indoors or confined spaces. Hay can be stored for long periods of time, but quality decreases with time.
The most popular types of grasses and plants grown in Kentucky for hay are orchardgrass, bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, timothy, tall fescue, alfalfa*, red clover*, and white clover*.
*these plants are legumes, meaning they can make their own nitrogen fertilizer and are higher in protein than grass hays.
Kentucky ranks 4th nationally for hay production excluding alfalfa and 7th for all hay production. In 2017, more than 2 million acres were harvested, producing 5.3 million tons of hay. Alfalfa hay production by Kentucky farmers is estimated at 525,000 tons, and other hay production is estimated at 4.80 million tons as of January 12, 2018.
Source: National Agriculture Statistics Service and Economic Research Commission
Hay is Not Just For Horses
Most livestock can’t digest what is left from wheat production, called straw. Instead, straw is put to use for landscaping and bedding. So farmers grow hay, a nutritious feed for livestock. Hay and other forage crops cover more acres in Kentucky than any other crop - in 2016, 2.25 million acres were devoted to growing forage and hay!
Kentucky farmers grow several types of grass for use as hay: Tall Fescue, Bluegrass, Orchardgrass, Timothy grass, and Alfalfa. Farmers harvest the grasses before they produce seed to lock in the nutritional value for their animals. They bind the grasses into bales (round or square) to use later.
Hay is very useful because it can be stored for a long time but keep its nutritional content. Farmers like it because many crops can be used for hay; it can be fed in small or large amounts; hay can be stored and fed by hand or it can be completely done by machines; and finally, hay can supply most of the nutrients that most livestock need. It is the most commonly used feed today on most farms.