Farm kids from long-gone days may know value of soybean hay


If I live long enough, boyhood chores from on the farm will come back. Extension stories from last week remind me of what I learned as a farm kid. I have know-how of value deep in my brain.

Soybean hay was one of those values. Not many farmers today have fed soybeans as hay. I’ve fed it from a barn loft. Yep, I was there for hay days.

My job was leading the “stacker horse.” That horse pulled the rope on a hay fork that filled a hayloft. Also, I helped stack hay, as that was before balers.

Soy hay was the best hay we had to feed. The alternative was timothy hay.  You see, I grew up before today’s most used cool-season grass, fescue, came to Missouri. But, soybeans were here, promoted as forage by Extension.

This won’t sound convincing, but we’ll miss a bet if we don’t make lots of soy hay this fall. We’ll need it.

This return to yesteryear came when USDA changed rules for using cropland that was flooded or saturated by rains. It’s prevented-planting ground.

The feds now say corn and soybean seed can be planted on “prevented acres” but can’t be grown for grain. The crop vegetation can be cut for forage.

I know, lots will say: “That’s crazy.” But, we need that forage to feed over 4 million cattle in the state.

Not much good hay was baled because of constant rains at haying time. I heard this often: “We can’t get three dry days to cure hay.”

Forecasts said three sunny days, so farmers cut hay. The next day the forage would be drenched. Wet hay doesn’t bale well. Some was wrapped in plastic to make haylage. But, that may be no good. Craig Roberts, MU forage specialist, issued warnings about toxins in wet hay.

A lot of hay was cut way past seed set and maturity. That delayed hay has the nutrient value of straw.

That’s where soy hay makes sense. On prevented acres soybean seed that wasn’t planted for grain can be used now to grow forage. If drilled thick or in narrow rows, soy becomes a cover crop. Cover is required on open ground for conservation.

Also, cover crops smother weeds waiting to emerge.

This isn’t an idea to rush out and do on your own. Every change in plans must be checked by the local USDA office. If insured for crop loss, check with your agent. Do nothing without approval. Check it out first. Follow all rules and deadlines for action after “prevented planting” dates. Check it now.

Those dates are past for soybeans. They’ve been extended on corn. All has been in flux.

Everyone knows about making corn silage, chopped corn or baling corn. It’s soybeans that baffle.

From my experience in the early 1940s, I know about soy hay.

When I visited MU nutritionist Eric Bailey, he was delighted with the news of having soy hay. It’s better than alfalfa, he said. Cow herd owners will need that protein and energy to balance rotten grass hay. Go to local meetings held by Extension and USDA.

I know another skill from my youth. My hands fit a hoe handle. I know how to chop weeds. Before the universal use of herbicides, weeds were controlled by cultivators, either horse drawn or the modern way by tractor.

Those machines did not kill weeds growing in the rows. Kids with hoes chopped those weeds. Can you believe it?

Modern farm kids miss out on lots of useful skills.

Kevin Bradley, MU weed specialist, looks for ways to control weeds in crops without chemicals that drift off the farm or weeds resistant to all herbicides.

His wisdom: “Weeds don’t develop resistance to sharp steel.” Kids may have a future in chopping.

I won’t go into the skill of picking up small hay bales — small round or square ones.

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