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Hay fever: Spring rains give farmers bumper crop
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Truelove Dairy uses tractors like this one to bale the hay the dairy requires for its cattle. This tractor comes with air conditioning to battle summer's heat.

0714HayAud

Ricky Curtis talks about how he might get more hay this year.

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It seems to be the Murphy's Law of farming: The week you need to drive around large open fields, cutting and baling hay for your cows or horses, will be the hottest of the summer.

"Oh, it does," laughs Jerry Truelove of the heat index on days when you're in the sun with pieces of cut hay flying around you. He and other family members who work at Truelove Dairy in Clermont started cutting hay for their cows in April, trying to time their cuttings between rainstorms.

At this point in the summer, he said, a little more rain could help farmers get another cutting of hay in before August, stretching their feed dollars even further in the winter months.

Hall County and Northeast Georgia are dotted with hay fields, no matter how many subdivisions have crept in during recent years. Often, drivers will go past one day and see gently rolling hills and tall green grass. The next day, that grass has transformed into round or square bales.

The round ones are for cows, said Rickey Curtis, owner of hay supplier Rickey Curtis Farms in Canton. The square ones are usually for horses, although Truelove said his farm does a cutting of high-quality grass in square bales used for the calves.

A wet start

Curtis said his farm got off to a late start this spring, trying to cut hay between rain storms.

"The rain was great and it made good hay, but by being three weeks behind it caused the hay to get a little more mature," he said. Mature hay has thicker stalks and is less desirable than the thin, green strands cut earlier.

But then, the spring's rains stopped.

"We didn't get no more rain," he added. "Normally we got another cutting ready to go, and it's slow right now. We got some rain last night so hopefully that's going to pick up for us."

And therein lies the trick when farmers cut their hay: Timing between rain showers is everything.

The perfect cut

Cow hay wrapped in 6-foot-tall bales is more resilient to the weather, Truelove said, and if it sits out overnight and gets rained on, it usually dries out enough to be stored. But square bales of higher-quality hay meant for horses needs a day or so of drying in the field, and then needs to be baled immediately - if it gets wet, it not only loses its nutrients but it also can get moldy.

"Sometimes it rains and your hay is already cut, so it's ruined and it's turned into mulch hay," said Cheryl Reyenger, owner of Rivendell Farm, a horse boarding stable in Murrayvillle. "You have to be expert enough to know, should I cut it now or not. Sometimes if you can't get in (the field) to cut it, sometimes it gets kind of stocky and it's not very good.

"So, it's a real science - of which I know nothing."

Curtis said after 25 years of cutting hay, he still starts a year never knowing what he's going to get.

"Every year's different. It's hard to plan from one year to the next, you know," he said. "There's always a different challenge."

Last year, he said, the drought forced him to abandon his own hay fields and haul in hay from out of state. This year, there's an abundance of local hay - but many farmers are short on cash.

Truelove said the spring's rains made for a good crop.

"We was lucky here at our farm. We baled around 1,400 round bales of hay without it getting rained on," he said. "Most of the folks around here, their hay gets wet, and when your hay gets rained on ... it just loses part of the nutrient value for the animals."

But until cold weather sets in, Truelove said the cows will eat mainly grass.

"In a normal year they can harvest grass out of the pasture cheaper than you can bale it and put it up and store it and later throw it out there to them," he said. "It's just green grass and hay this time of year."

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