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Hay is the oldest, and still the most important, conserved fodder, despite its dependence on suitable weather at harvest time. It can be made with simple equipment, manually or with mechanization, and many small-scale farming systems make hay to assure livestock feed through the lean season. This publication discusses hay and hay crops in a wide range of situations, emphasizing small-scale techniques. Livestock must have feed all year round. Crop growth is determined by the weather, but green feed is only available at certain times of year, and the shorter the growing season, the more uneven its distribution in time. In all but the most clement climates, therefore, in times of scarcity, if loss of weight and production is to be reduced or avoided, feed must be provided to supplement grazing and green forage. The conservation of forage and crop residues is a traditional way to reduce seasonal variations in availability.

Haymaking involves reducing the moisture content of cut herbage in the field from an initial 70 - 90% to 15 - 20% - simple in theory, but very dependent on the weather and demanding skill and judgement from the farmer. Hay is classed as a roughage, i.e., a feed with over 18% crude fibre and under 20% crude protein in its dry matter (DM); in practice, most hays have a feeding value well below these levels. It is rarely a complete food and must be used as part of an overall feeding system. Crop residues, straws and stovers, mainly but not exclusively from cereals, are also important as lean-season feed for ruminants, and are often used in association with hay. Since the subjects are so closely linked and the technology and equipment similar, they are dealt with together. The emphasis is on crops specifically grown for hay, and on natural grassland. Leys which are both mown and grazed are traditionally used in rotations on large farms in some temperate regions, but for small-scale farmers (and in this context many farms are less than 2 ha arable), grazed pasture is not a practical option.

Storing forage for use in the non-growing season is an ancient practice which probably originated in countries where climatic conditions for hay-making were good, where livestock were important and where herbage could dry off as standing hay. Lucerne, the finest forage and hay crop, was developed in central Asia (Asia Media, when that meant a country!) several centuries before our era. Storage of straws and crop residues for feed is probably as old as cereal cultivation. The domestication of lucerne was closely associated with the development of the horse as a war animal. The evolution of fodder growing and haymaking, until modern times, was more associated with draught animals, cavalry and transport than with dairying. Until the development of railways and the internal combustion engine, vast quantities of feed were needed, in cities and in the country, to feed draught animals. Such animals have largely vanished from developed countries, but remain important elsewhere, in both rural and urban work.

Natural drying of mown herbage by sun and wind is still the commonest way of conserving fodder, natural grass and crop residues; auxiliary artificial drying is used, occasionally, in some of the more highly mechanized systems. Hay is the small-scale producer's best conserved fodder since, in all but the most humid climates, it can be made with little equipment or costs other than labour. Hay can be made by simple equipment, and, once correctly cured, is easy to transport and store, and can be fed with little or no wastage. Since hay is an appropriate conserved forage for small-scale farmers and pastoralists with limited resources, it should be encouraged where climatic and economic conditions are suitable. Hay is often marketed as a cash crop, usually baled.

Drying, like other methods of conservation, reduces digestibility and intake, related to the time that the herbage is exposed to leaching and other losses in the field. These can be reduced by barn drying and high temperature drying of herbage, and the technology is well developed, but most hay is still field-cured. In the tropics, standing dried natural grass and the roughages derived from field crops are in most cases the cheapest feed for the dry season.

Ensiling, a fermentation process, is now a major conservation method for large-scale enterprises in sub-humid and humid climates, but it is laborious without heavy machinery. Also, it is not marketable, as silage is unsuitable for transport over any but the shortest distance. A separate publication is planned on silage, so it is not covered here.

Modern haymaking technology developed most rapidly in the colder, humid climates of the Northern Hemisphere, where a long winter limits the growing season and snow may for long periods prevent access to standing grass. The industrialization of that zone provided great markets for farm produce and stimulated the consequent commercialization of agriculture. Livestock production in the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere has been progressively freed from the seasonality of herbage production by increased use of conserved forage.


Grazing lands cover a vast area of the earth's surface, but they rarely provide adequate (in quantity or quality) year-round feed to support highly productive livestock. This is particularly true of the grasslands of the seasonally-dry tropics, where annual rainfall may be concentrated in a few months or weeks during the hot season (the "monsoon" pattern) and the mature herbage is of extremely low nutritive value. Such grazing lands have a low potential for ruminant development unless supplemented with forage and crop residues from arable land. There is a worldwide lack of statistics on forage area and production; the same is true for "grassland" or pasture. Definitions of pasture vary widely from country to country, and large areas of land classed as forest, wasteland or desert are grazed at some season of the year. Most livestock, however, are kept in mixed systems where the land, not all open grazing, is a mosaic of arable and (usually on land less suited to cultivation) grazing. It is in such mixed systems that hay and crop residues find their main role.

Cultural groups keep livestock for different reasons. Where milk is a major product, haymaking will be much more widespread than where milk is not traditionally consumed and where stock are kept for draught. India, which has the world's largest herd of cattle, is very much a milk-drinking country; fodder and the use of crop residues are widespread; multipurpose stock provide milk, dung, work and hides, but the meat of bovines is not eaten. Multipurpose stock are different things in different countries. In most of central and southern China and Indochina, cattle and buffalo are kept for draught but are not traditionally milked, nor is their meat as prized as that of monogastrics; cattle and buffaloes are usually bred only when replacement draught stock is needed. Such stock can subsist on rough grazing and crop residues, so forage is not important. In contrast, the pastoral areas of China, notably Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Xizan, are great consumers of milk and ruminants' meat. The two first-mentioned have a long tradition of forage cultivation and conservation.

Provision of feed for deficit seasons has always been a major component in the improvement of agricultural production. When livestock are adequately fed in the lean season, their output increases, they are fit for draught when most needed and more dung is available for fertility recycling. Before the agricultural revolution in western Europe, for example, livestock were usually in very poor condition at the end of winter, and in some cases had to be helped to pasture when the vegetation began to grow again in spring. Stock not needed for reproduction or draught were slaughtered in autumn and the flesh salted. Winter feed was limited to some crop residues and, perhaps, a little meadow hay. The introduction of crops sown for hay (red clover, ryegrasses, lucerne) was a major step forward in improving winter feeding and crop rotation, with root crops (turnips, swedes, beet) complementing hay in some areas. Improved feed allowed improvement of livestock breeds. Inputs - seed and fertilizer - were of course required, but the net result was a great increase in farm output and saleable surpluses, which permitted the development of a more diversified economy with manufacturing and trading capacity. In the very different semi-arid climate of North Africa and western and central Asia, haymaking, often from lucerne, has long been a very important source of off-season high-quality feed for both the sedentary and pastoral livestock sector.

The area of natural grazing available to small-scale farmers, especially in Africa, is decreasing rapidly as more and more land is put under crops. This has, of course, not been accompanied by a parallel decrease in livestock numbers, since the demand for crops and livestock are related to human population. This has the double effect of seasonal poor livestock feed availability (both quantity and quality), coupled with degradation of the vegetation cover of the grazing lands through overstocking. The danger of damage to vegetation is probably greatest where there is a mosaic of arable and grazing land. The complex question of stocking rates in traditional systems under fully pastoral situations is reviewed by Behnke and Abel (1996). In many parts of Africa, bottom lands, which had provided some dry-season grazing, are now, with increasing population pressure and expanding urban markets, used for vegetables and sugar cane. Intensification of production systems, with careful use of crop residues, is necessary if animal production is to be maintained and expanded to meet human needs for draught and livestock products. This implies more stall-feeding of stock, increased cut-and-carry systems on small farms, and haymaking to cover the dry or cold season periods of scarcity. The example of the irrigated tracts of the Indo-Gangetic plain which have moved, in a century, from extensive grazing of semi-desert and riparian vegetation to intensive irrigated agriculture, with a stall-fed livestock population which exceeds many-fold the original level, may provide examples for other areas.

Figure 1. Making lucerne hay in Altai, Xinjiang; mown herbage piled into cocks to finish drying, so reducing leaf-loss.

Figure 2. Baled straw, drying in field (Dunecht, Scotland)

Crop residues - straw, stover, chaff, husks and so on - constitute over half the harvestable biomass of the most widely grown cereals, so the conversion of grassland to arable does not result in a decrease in the availability of dry matter suitable for ruminant feed; but the quality is usually reduced. Therefore high quality forage and hay is needed to complement poor grazing and roughages. The value of residues is increasingly recognized in small-scale farming systems and, in the West African Sahel and savannah zones, where previously they were grazed in situ, they are now harvested and stored for on-farm use or sale. These roughages, on their own, are poor feed and require supplementation, but they can be greatly improved by treatment with urea or ammonia.

The possibility of reclaiming "wastelands" (common grazing and forest which have been totally degraded by mismanagement) has been demonstrated on a large scale by the field work of the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute (Jhansi, U.P.), whereby, once some rehabilitation and planting had been carried out, uncontrolled grazing was replaced, through a people's participatory approach, by cut-and-carry systems to supplement and complement crop residues. The technologies and genetic material used have been known for a long time, but now the Institute has developed an integrated, system-oriented package which combines water conservation, re-seeding and sparse tree planting, coupled with a credit facility which allows villagers to stall-feed while the pasture and fodder trees are developing. Similar activities, funded by the Wasteland Commission, are being undertaken at sites in the country's many ecological zones. This work is the basis for training staff from other development institutions who are involved in an ambitious programme of wasteland development.

Hay can be made from natural herbage or sown crops. The main forage sources, in order of importance in the areas and production systems under discussion, are: natural vegetation, crop residues and cultivated fodder. Making hay from selected areas of natural grassland is traditional in many pastoral areas, mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, outside the tropics. Straws, haulms and stovers are very important feeds worldwide. Fodder, although grown in many countries, is usually a minor feed source in the area under discussion, except for the great irrigated tracts of India, Pakistan and Egypt, where it is grown on a vast scale.

"Natural" grassland is difficult to define, but it is that which has not been sown. Little of the world's grassland is natural, insofar as the influence of man through his control of grazing pressure and sometimes of fire, is necessary to maintain the herbage balance and reduce or avoid invasion of woody vegetation. Various stages of conscious improvement are used, other than grazing management, ranging from bush clearing, drainage, fertilizing and introduction of more productive species, to destruction of the native vegetation, followed by re-seeding. Great care should be taken before deciding to replace natural vegetation with exotic pasture, especially on marginal land and in areas where the technology is not fully proven.

Hay uses land and inputs in the same way as other crops within the production system, and must therefore compete on economic terms with other crop choices. Economic incentives are as essential for the adoption of haymaking as for any other improved technology. Projects that encourage fodder production "to reduce pressure on the communal pasture," or because of seasonal feed deficits, rarely produce sustainable results. Forage crops require just as much, and sometimes more, agronomic skill and care as other field crops: this is not always recognized by those who have not had to deal with them in the field.

Hay crops come in two great groups: specialized crops used only as stock-feed, and those which are also field crops. Both groups are mainly grasses and legumes. Most specialized fodder and pasture crops are of very recent domestication or semi-domestication, and their seed production and installation techniques often require more skill than that of crops domesticated for thousands of years. Lucerne (Medicago sativa), berseem or Egyptian clover (Trifolium alexandrinum) and Persian clover (T. resupinatum) are of ancient domestication in western Asia, as is red clover (T. pratense). Most other sown pasture plants are of comparatively recent domestication. Ryegrasses (Lolium spp.) have been grown in western Europe for two or three hundred years but, until the mid-nineteenth century, seed was usually hay-barn sweepings, while white clover (T. repens) came into grazed pastures naturally if soil fertility suited it. The Welsh Plant Breeding Station, which pioneered grass and clover selection and breeding, was not founded until 1919! Timothy (Phleum pratense) and cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata), although of European origin, were first used as hay crops in Virginia (USA) in the eighteenth century, and re-introduced as crops to Europe; systematic breeding and selection is much more recent. Some tropical grasses have been cultivated sporadically for some time, usually beyond their area of origin, (e.g., Chloris gayana, Eragrostis curvula, Melinis minutiflora and Panicum maximum), but systematic selection, most collection and breeding dates from the second half of the twentieth century. Cereals, notably oats, maize and sorghum, are very important fodders, for both green feed and conservation.

FAO has always emphasized the importance of forage and pasture in farming systems, as a feed source for livestock and for maintaining soil fertility, re-cycling plant nutrients and protecting the environment. Mixed farming allows a full use of overall farm production of biomass (the straw or stover yield is often of the same order as that of the grain in cereal crops), converting crop wastes, not consumable by humans, into economic products through ruminant livestock. Early major publications from FAO and dealing with the overall grassland and fodder scene include Improving the World's Grasslands (FAO, 1951), and for species used as forage throughout the world there were Legumes in Agriculture (FAO, 1953) and Grasses in Agriculture (2nd edition; FAO, 1965). Later publications include Tropical Forage Legumes (1988) and Tropical Grasses (FAO, 1989), which deal with tropical forages in detail. The feeding value of fodders and crop residues has been dealt with in Tropical Feeds (FAO, 1993), which is also available in electronic form.

This book sets out to deal with hay and residues, considered to be essential components of fodder management for the development of year-round feeding systems. It addresses technicians, advisers and extension workers dealing with the small-scale and traditional sectors, and with development projects. Through a series of case studies, from a wide geographic spread, information on the haymaking practices and strategies of many countries is made available. It aims to assist in deciding where hay fits into production systems, namely where it is a rational choice in year-round-feeding systems and in strategies for dealing with seasonal deficits. Hay often serves to supplement rough grazing and crop residues in small-scale livestock feeding.

The technology and equipment for handling dry crop wastes are the same as those used in haymaking; they are often stored together and used almost interchangeably in feeding. Their harvest, conservation and storage is included as a logical companion to haymaking. A list of botanical names with their authorities and common synonyms is given in an appendix; no attempt has been made to multiply "common" names. It has not been possible to check the specific epithets in the case studies; only obvious spelling errors have been corrected.

The emphasis is on small-scale and traditional, pastoral conditions. Advances in haymaking technology in recent years are many, and these are described briefly, although more applicable to larger-scale farming in tropical and semi-arid zones as well as in temperate regions. The large-scale sector is a specialized and evolving subject, which is constantly absorbing innovations in agricultural engineering technology. There is abundant literature and technical advice is commercially available. Highly mechanized technology is, however, beyond the reach of small-scale farmers.

A loose approach to geographical coverage has been used throughout since, in the context of the subject matter, working definitions cannot be clearly made of "tropical" and "semi-arid." The zoning adopted by the International Grassland Congress at its 1993 meeting has been used as the broad framework for climatic sub-division of the subject. In the humid tropics it is usually easier to maintain a supply of green forage than elsewhere and climatic conditions are rarely ideal for haymaking. The book's emphasis is on those agro-ecological sites and situations encountered in developing countries, the main clientèle of FAO. A series of case studies are presented in Chapter XI to illustrate the practices and some of the problems of haymaking in developing countries. The emphasis is on areas where fodder conservation is traditional.

The principles of haymaking, the equipment and techniques used are described in Chapter II for both natural and cultivated forages. Three, very roughly defined, levels of technology can be discerned:

(i) manual systems with simple tools;

(ii) intermediate systems, with draught animal power or simple mechanization, especially for mowing and transport; and

(iii) fully mechanized systems.

While tropical and semi-arid systems are stressed, techniques for cool temperate areas are discussed briefly, since haymaking is not easy there and much of the modern technology has been developed under such conditions.

Hay crops and their cultivation are described in Chapters III to VI. Most have several uses: they may be field crops (cereals and pulses) or grown for pasture; and are conserved by ensiling where conditions suit. Here, only management for hay is discussed. When hay is made from natural pasture, the hayfields must be managed to provide adequate herbage at the season when hay can be harvested safely. In traditional systems, where common access to grazing is usual, communal consensus and regulation are essential to regulate the seasonal closure to grazing, cutting rights and management of hay lands. The management of natural vegetation for hay is dealt with in Chapter VII.

Fodders are available to suit most agricultural conditions and farming systems. It is important to use those that suit local conditions and systems rather than attempting to adapt conditions to grow a specific forage. The aim must always be high quality hay since, except in cases of overall dry-matter scarcity, it will be used to complement rough grazing and crop residues. The choice of crops is discussed in Chapter VIII. Many tropical hays, especially "bush hay" are no better - and probably of lower - feeding value than straw and stover. When planning haymaking, therefore, the local availability and quality of crop residues should be checked to see if they merit more or less attention than hay. Cereal straw or stover comprises about half the harvestable biomass; this cannot be eaten directly by humans, but can be transformed into economic products by ruminant livestock. Often these are already the basis of ruminant feed. Their rational harvesting, drying and storage is discussed in Chapter IX.

It is reasonable to expect that, once forage has been conserved, care should be taken in its use. The overall ration of the livestock, including minerals, must be balanced for the production expected. The stock should be in good health, internal parasites should be given particular attention, and suitable equipment should be used for transport, handling and feeding. Wastage at the feeding stage is far from uncommon, but can be greatly reduced by the use of suitable troughs, hay racks and, sometimes, by chaffing. This is discussed in Chapter X. The production system determines how the hay is used. Priority will be given to the most profitable or vulnerable stock. Lactating animals, young stock and draught animals are often the main users, but this depends on the farm's production system.

Hay is also a cash-crop, grown specifically for sale. Urban markets can have high demands for hay, green fodder and crop residues for draught stock, dry dairies and recreational stock (race-horses, riding horses, ponies). "Dairy colonies" and in-town dairies and urban family milch stock, which are so common in India and western Asia, have a vast demand for straw, fodder and hay. Pastoralists who require feed for a winter or dry-season gap are an important market in North Africa and western Asia (also for crop residues). Hay can be made where lack of drinking water and fencing would preclude grazing. Like cut-and-carry forage, hay can be produced without the investment in the infrastructure required for grazing.

Hay and straw, although major tools in assuring a year-round feed supply, are, of course, not the only ones. Silage has been mentioned earlier, and is of major importance on mechanized farms. Herd management can often be modified so that stock numbers or feed demand are minimized at difficult seasons. Stock-owners' objectives vary, from the intensive producer, dealing with a fresh milk market, who must maintain production throughout the year, to the pastoralist in marginal conditions whose main desire is to have the maximum number of breeding stock survive the season of difficulty. When planning haymaking as part of the overall farm strategy, alternatives, which range from accepting weight loss to feeding concentrates, should be considered, and are considered in Chapter IX.

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