Horses, sheep, cows and other livestock get most of their nutrients in the form of hay. These animals commonly graze on growing hay in pastures and consume bailed hay from harvested fields. Different blends of hay contain varying amounts of grass seed. The best type of grass seed to use in your hay crop depends on your climate and your livestock.
Hay contains a blend of grass and legumes, such as clover and alfalfa. When planting a hay crop, you must determine the ratio of grass seeds to legume seeds, mix them accordingly and plant them in combination. During the first season of growth, your ratio of legumes to grass plants closely resembles the ratio of your planted seeds. However, during subsequent years, temperatures and soil conditions can alter your original ratio, often resulting in excessive percentages of single grass types or specific legumes. Planting seeds that grow easily in your location can help you keep the ratio consistent.
Common grass seeds for use in hay crops include Timothy, tall fescue, ryegrass, bromegrass and bluegrass. Combined with legumes, these grasses provide beneficial nutrients. Although grazing can affect the rate of reseeding, planting the proper type of grass for your location can result in years of consistent production.
When choosing the correct grass seed to grow, consider your soil conditions, amount of rainfall, feeding needs and length of seasons. For instance, Timothy grows well in soil that has low levels of fertility, while bromegrass requires fertile soil and prefers a high altitude. Horses and cattle require high-quality hay, such as blends that contain Lucerne, oat grass and Timothy, while goats thrive on almost any variety of grass.
Your seeding rate can determine the quality of your hay crop. When seeding your pasture, consider the soil's structure, fertility and drainage. Missouri Department of Conservation recommends seeding rates of 8 pounds of orchard grass mixed with 10 pounds of alfalfa for each acre of fertile soil with good drainage. Wet areas may do better with a seeding mixture that contains 8 pounds of reed Canarygrass, 1 pound of Ladino clover and 2 pounds of Alsike clover. Your state's department of agriculture, as well as your local university's extension office, can help you decide the best mixture for your particular location.
Hay mixtures formulated for your growing conditions require minimal maintenance. Graze your livestock or mow and bail your hay after it reaches maturity. While certain herbicides can effectively remove noxious weeds from your hay stand, many herbicides can damage your grass and legumes. Use caution when applying herbicides, especially during windy conditions, which may cause overspray and damage to surrounding crops or plants.