What Is 3rd Cutting Hay?

flock of sheep waiting to be fed

Looking for hay can be confusing. You know you need third cutting, but what does that mean and how do you tell if what you found is good hay?

Well made 3rd cutting hay is high in quality and palatability. 3rd cutting refers to the hay harvested off of a field that has been cut for the third time this growing season.

Most regions of the country that get multiple cuttings of hay will be able to get three or even four cuttings of hay per year.

Third cutting hay can be from any perennial forage, perennial means that the plant grows back year after year.

How much hay do you need to buy? Read How Many Bales of Hay Will My Sheep Need? (Don’t get hung up on the sheep part, these calculations will apply to all animals.)

High Quality 3rd Cutting Hay How To Tell
Good green colorvisual inspection
Plentiful leaves, small stemsvisual inspection
Smells greatopen up a bale
No mold or dustopen up a bale

Hay crops that would commonly have a third cutting are:

  • alfalfa
  • clover
  • orchard grass
  • mixed forage

Third cutting hay is high quality hay

Unless something really went wrong with the harvesting or storage of the hay, third cutting hay should be high quality hay for your animals.

Third cutting should be fine stemmed, with plentiful leaves and a beautiful green color.

This hay should smell good and be free of weeds.

We have noticed the later cuttings of hay can have a large number of fallen tree leaves in the bale.

While this is not exactly a problem, the tree leaves are not what your animals are going to eat, so you are paying for weight that is not hay.

A few tree leaves or weeds in the hay is not a big deal, as long as it is a small percentage of the total bale.

Third cutting hay will cost more

A high quality third cutting hay will cost more than a high quality first cutting hay.

Why? Two reasons:

  • Supply and demand-third cutting naturally has less total hay from the field than first cutting, meaning there is less third cutting to sell.
  • Higher value hay-third cutting hay is higher in nutritional value than first cutting, so it is worth more per ton

Check out What Is Second Cutting Hay? for a hay quality calculator with an example that will show you the differences in price versus feeding value for your hay.

Animals with high energy needs can eat 3rd cutting hay

Since third cutting hay has more leaves and is more palatable than first cutting hay, you can feed third cutting hay to animals with high energy needs.

High energy needs animals include younger stock like calves and lambs and lactating moms, who need to milk for the babies and keep weight on themselves.

Maintenance animals do not need 3rd cutting hay

Any animal that is just maintaining their weight, like a pet goat or a bred ewe in early gestation, does not need as nice of a hay as third cutting.

These lower energy needs animals would be better served with a nice first cutting hay instead.

Save the third cutting for a high energy needs animal or use it as a treat for your pets, not their main ration.

Since third cutting is high in energy, it will be easy to overfeed your pets and make them fat.

Timing Is Everything is a University of Georgia Extension article giving more specifics on making great hay.

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