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My first question was so well handled by some great people that I thought I would pose another. Does a hay field get less productive as it ages? I ask this for a few reasons. One is that I can remember my father-in-law had the field redone about 25 years ago. After the first cutting a local farmer plowed the field and planted winter wheat. In the spring when he harvested the wheat that was considered his profit for his work. After the wheat was gone he planted a mixture of grasses and the following spring we again made hay. We lost one season of hay. After about 15 years or so we soil tested the field and fertilized the field and our yield went way up. We did the same every other year for about six years. We had the field treated with weed killer in August two years ago and it did an amazing job. We are starting to get some milkweed around the ground hog holes which we are always battling. We do not spread our horse manure on the hayfield rather we spread it out in our rather large pasture and woods. We do not allow any grazing on the field. So back to the question. . . do we need to redo the field from scratch? Are we taking proper care of the field by fertilizing and using broad leaf weed killer from time to time?
 

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Yes a hay field will show it's age. I believe it is worse on permanent grass hay fields than the legume fields that are over seeded, especially if drilled.

My first thought when reading your post was compaction. Years of running equipment on a hay field will compact the soil, create a hard pan.

I try to sub soil my Bermuda field every 4 or 5 years. It breaks up the hard pan. Most research says we will never undo the deep compaction caused by the many trips over a hay field. We can improve it though.

Pasture renovators claim to break up the hard pan and rejuvenate hay ground. It helps break up the root clusters and stimulate the plants to rejuvenate, or so is claimed. Opinions here differ.

Finally, most of what we add to our hay fields come in the form of lime and N,P & K fertilizer. It stands to reason that the plants pull more than those three ingredients from the ground. Can not say much more on that because I am getting in over my head.

I know an older Gent who disks his grass hay field every few years. He pulverizes it after the last normal freeze date. Looks like a big field where he tried to kill the grass. The grass comes back with a vengeance. It costs him about 2 or 3 weeks in harvest time over the course of a summer but he always has a beautiful hay field.
 

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New improved varieties yield more and have better disease resistance then older varieties.So yes you could greatly improve yields.Also a good time to soil test and fertilize and Lime as needed.

Tkekic.A location would be nice in your profile.Haying differences across the country are huge with different climates and types of hay so if asking advise you should at least put what state you are in your profile.
 

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Several things can contribute to a hay field getting poor, you didn't put a location in your profile, unless there's a town called "hay only" if so what state is that in? In the south, a Bermuda grass field will persist for 25-30 years or more depending on inputs and things like cutting too late. Typically the fields down here have issues from not enuf potash, you don't see the immediate benefits of K on the field, just like you don't see the immediate benefits of lime, but both can ruin a stand if they never get applied. I know people that use only N, they take off 10 tons pa and never put out any potash, year after year, the field diminishes. Throw some acidic soil in there and you've got a problem. By adding lime, you are trying to get to that target ph for the crop you're growing, without K the root structure will not be deep and during times of drought, the field will perform poorly and diminish. Hope it helps
 

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While I don't have quite the wisdom of some of the guys on here when it comes to fertilizing/liming fields, we do have a field on our farm that I can't remember the last time it was seeded (well over 20 years) and it is still producing nicely. This field doesn't have the purest stand of timothy on it any more, but still makes good hay that I can market as horse quality. On the other hand, we have another field only a few hundred feet down the road that we refitted 15 years ago and we had to stop harvesting hay off it 5 years ago since there were so many weeds. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it all depends on how you care for the field. FYI, I have started to get into regular soil testing along with fertilizer/lime application so that I can do a better job of maintaining the fields.

Another thing to consider is what hay market you are going after. If you are trying to do real high quality horse hay, you probably need to refit more often. If you are doing cow hay or mushroom hay, then you would most likely have to worry about it less. Also, refitting allows you to get the field smoothed out and eliminate any ruts, woodchuck holes, washouts, etc.

Tim/South has a good point about compaction as well. The past couple of years, I have let a local farmer raise corn on our fallow fields to help get them back into shape. He has to moldboard plow the first year, but after that he just runs a disc/chisel plow over the fields. He runs it as deep as he usually can, so any hard pan gets broken up. The second field I mentioned above had corn on it for two years, laid follow for this summer and was planted back into hay this fall. I'm looking forward to see how it does next year.
 

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Really depends on cultural practices and the hay type. Ex: truly sod forming grasses like smooth brome can last essentially indefinitely. Bunch grasses like orchard get more bunchy as the stand ages and whe it may not greatly affect yield it will surely open up areas for weeds to establish after the first cuttings.

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Tim/South has a good point about compaction as well. The past couple of years, I have let a local farmer raise corn on our fallow fields to help get them back into shape. He has to moldboard plow the first year, but after that he just runs a disc/chisel plow over the fields. He runs it as deep as he usually can, so any hard pan gets broken up. The second field I mentioned above had corn on it for two years, laid follow for this summer and was planted back into hay this fall. I'm looking forward to see how it does next year.
The hard pan developes Below plow depth.
 

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I think there are two farm practices created compaction issues, one is a plow pan that was often created when folks plowed all the time and often when it was too wet. That one is at 8-10 inches, and subsoiling was done to break that one up and chisel plowing was started to not have a "level trowel" the plow, packing the soil.

The second one comes from driving over the ground multiple times such as in hay work-worst I have ever seen is fields in corn silage over and over- the turn lanes at the end of the field were so compact that nothing would grow. I think MBP or CP work those up really nicely. Actually thinking of working one of my hay fields next year for just that reason.

The third one comes from natural soil processes on toeslopes in soils with drainage problems. Those soils naturally have fragipans or hard pans usually at about 8-16 inches below the surface. Nothing you can do about these, they are just there and they have a natural silica cement that is far worse than the traffic compaction pans.
 

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I try to use a Hayking on my fields every year, last year was an exception, too wet to pull anything in the fields, usually I try to pull it in the spring, don't thnk it really matters when, just when I do it cause I'm doing so much spraying and such at that time.... My next application of lime will be in about 60 days, may try it then if weather permits......
 

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Really depends on cultural practices and the hay type. Ex: truly sod forming grasses like smooth brome can last essentially indefinitely. Bunch grasses like orchard get more bunchy as the stand ages and whe it may not greatly affect yield it will surely open up areas for weeds to establish after the first cuttings.

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The hard pan developes Below plow depth.
We install our own tile, it develops far below plow depth to the extent nothing made today will go that deep.

Alfalfa does help break up deep compaction as well as tillage radish, not causing any more compaction is one of the best things you can do and time and mother nature can help alleviate some more if you get deep frost during your winters.
 

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I think there are two farm practices created compaction issues, one is a plow pan that was often created when folks plowed all the time and often when it was too wet. That one is at 8-10 inches, and subsoiling was done to break that one up and chisel plowing was started to not have a "level trowel" the plow, packing the soil.

The second one comes from driving over the ground multiple times such as in hay work-worst I have ever seen is fields in corn silage over and over- the turn lanes at the end of the field were so compact that nothing would grow. I think MBP or CP work those up really nicely. Actually thinking of working one of my hay fields next year for just that reason.

The third one comes from natural soil processes on toeslopes in soils with drainage problems. Those soils naturally have fragipans or hard pans usually at about 8-16 inches below the surface. Nothing you can do about these, they are just there and they have a natural silica cement that is far worse than the traffic compaction pans.
Thanks for the education, Hayman. The only hardpan I knew about was the one created by the repeated plowing. I've sometimes heard this called a plow sole.

To clear up what I said in my earlier post, the guy who grows corn on my fields runs what I believe is called a disc ripper. I talked to him about it and he told me he runs at least 14 inches or deeper depending on how hard it pulls/how many rocks he's hitting, etc. The tool seemed to do a real nice job of getting things broken up. Is there any chance of a hard pan bellow that level?
 

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Josh- It is conceivable that there is if the field was really abused a lot as in the silage cutting example I used before, or, if there is a natural hardpan or fragipan in the soil-is it really wet during the winter and does it get saturated faster than other fields that you have? usually fragipan locations are on high really flat wide ridgetops, toe slopes (where water runs laterally under the surface, or in low flats. Sorry for the terminology, but I was a soil scientist by training and did soil evaluations for both crops and drainfields for about 20 years before becoming a solid waste guy. rick
 

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Somebody mentioned cultural practices, and location....... This will also have an effect on your compaction -- If I were to run a subsoiler 14 inches deep here, I'd be picking rocks for a lifetime. Many times when we'd run the moldboard plow we'd be bringing up some yellow looking dirt that was a subsoil of sorts. Maybe it's just right here, but depending where you're at, your soil is going to dictate what compaction you might have, and what you can do about it.

Rodney
 

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Thanks for the education, Hayman. The only hardpan I knew about was the one created by the repeated plowing. I've sometimes heard this called a plow sole.

To clear up what I said in my earlier post, the guy who grows corn on my fields runs what I believe is called a disc ripper. I talked to him about it and he told me he runs at least 14 inches or deeper depending on how hard it pulls/how many rocks he's hitting, etc. The tool seemed to do a real nice job of getting things broken up. Is there any chance of a hard pan bellow that level?
From my experience you can have a plow pan or sole, and getting below that will help, but compaction in general can run much deeper.

We have easily compactible soils in our area, case in point a farm that I still rent was logged out over ten years ago and they drug the logs up to the road over the same path. I chiseled it several years in a row and you could still see exactly where that path was no matter the crop grown. I paid a neighbor to come in and deep rip a couple years in a row and that helped, but you could still see the path especially in a dry year from the shallower roots. Have had hay on it for almost 5 years now and you can still tell something happened along there as the hay just doesn't get as tall or as lush along that path, it is getting better though.

Depending on your soils and how they were compacted no mechanical means will be able to completely remove the compacted layers.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I am learning a lot here. I Bought a single shank ripper and should get it sometime next week. From the discussion I figure I need to go about 12" deep. My biggest tractor is 55HP and my second one is 48HP. It takes 30 HP to run the single shank ripper. My question is how far apart do I go with the ripper? Most of my field is pretty dry right now so I will try this as soon as I get the ripper. 11.8 acres so it is a good thing I have a radio in the cab. I know that it will take some time. I was also told to go at a 90 degree angle to those parts of the field that has ruts from hay wagons and tractors.
 

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The drier the ground the better as far as helping with compaction. Moist ground and the shank will slide through and not shatter the compaction as much.

The flip side of that is in hard ground you will bust up some clods. It is also harder to pull, takes more of your horses.

I subsoil at half the tractor width in hard ground. That means I am running over my last pass with the tractor tire. It helps flatten out the hump created by the subsoil.

I know some will say that by running over the last pass that I am undoing what I just did. Remember that compaction is caused more in wet ground. I can run over my last pass and take a stick and run it straight down into the seam in the ground.
 

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This is a very timely thread! I took my shovel for a walk today and found some interesting things. We had an abnormally wet year as most of us did and most of my amendments wound up in waterbreaks and ditches. Most of our soils run better than 50% clay on the river flats and about 30% clay on the slopes. Some fields I could barely get 4" deep. Other fields I could easily push the shovel completely into the soil. I noticed on the newer varieties of timothy and perennial ryegrass the roots were much larger than the older varieties. I last planted 5 years ago. Is root formation linked to deep compaction issues? Will rootmass shrink over time as the clay settles into itself? Will the increased volume of root mass help keep compaction at bay in these heavy soils? I have some land I need to rotate out this next year. Wanted to go notill but with only being able to penetrate 4" might I just break out the trusty moldboard and do clover/peas, corn, tillage radish rotation and follow with no till the following spring?
I guess the answer to your question at least in my case is yes a field can age out. That's my preliminary hypothysis currently. There are people who know far more than me on this site and will give both me and you a course correction when necessary.
 
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