Hay is used extensively for feeding horses and livestock, and also makes good bedding material for animals. Different grasses yield hay with varying protein and vitamin levels, so it's important to know which types of grasses to plant for the appropriate harvest of hay. Premium hay is grown for rabbits and small pets. Whether hay is harvested and gathered by hand or machine, freshly cut grasses need to cure by drying in the sun in the pasture or field before it is baled and stored for use.
Slow-growing timothy grass does best in cooler weather, as do most grasses. It is cut for hay shortly before the seed heads have burst open. Timothy grows in bunches nearly 40 inches tall, and is favored by horses or animals with sensitive digestive systems.
For wet soils, tall fescue works well. Tall fescue reaches a height of 3 to 4 feet and should be mowed or cut just before the seed heads are ready to burst open. Fescue grass is resistant to mold and stores well for long periods.
Fast-growing rye grass makes a good grass for hay and pasturage alike. It grows to about 4 feet tall, and, unlike many other grasses used for hay, is an annual. In Southern states, it is grown during the winter to supply food for foraging animals and livestock.
Orchard grass is a perennial grass that grows vigorously, especially in cooler weather. It is high in protein, especially the first few cuttings of the season. It grows in bunches and is best cut before its seed heads emerge.
Brome grass is grown in the Pacific Northwest and is widely used throughout the Midwest. It grows to about 4 feet tall, and performs well in areas that have problems with drought and fluctuating temperatures. Brome and other straight grasses are less prone to problems with mold when stored.
Sudan grass is a grass-like sorghum that originally came from Africa and makes an outstanding hay. It is a heat- and drought-resistant annual that can grow to an incredible 8 feet tall. From planting of sudan grass to first harvest takes about a month and a half.