The rain-bearing cumulus clouds weren't the only intimidating forces rolling over Lawler Angus Farm on June 18. Shiny tractors, balers, tedders, mowers and flatbed trailers from local dealers slowly crept into their designated places, outside the Lawler Angus Farm barns off Highway 51 south of Opelika in east Alabama, for the fourth annual Hay and Forage Field Day.

“We like to think of it as a mini-Moultrie,” says Lee County Extension Coordinator Chuck Browne, referring to the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo in Moultrie, Ga. “It helps promote local equipment suppliers, feed and seed stores and fertilizer companies.”

Participants included representatives from E, O and G's Farm Equipment Center, Wire Road Tractor and Lawn Center, Melson Tractor Company, Tarver Sales and Fella Equipment, Capital Tractor, Bishop Equipment, Phil Murphy Trailer Sales, Pfizer Animal Health, the Lee County Cattleman's Association, Piedmont Fertilizer, Pennington Seed Company and Monty's Plant Food Company.

“We wanted balers, tractors, cutters and rakes, and everyone who has anything equipment-oriented,” says John Maples, one of the event's organizers and livestock agent assistant for the Lee County Extension Service. “This year we've had good participation from the equipment dealers. We encourage people to talk to the dealers because that's what this day is all about.”

Dealers such as Jimmy O'Dell, from E, O and G's Farm Equipment Center of Opelika, are more than willing to discuss their products with potential customers. “You can't buy this exposure anywhere else,” O'Dell says. “It's a good opportunity to present your products to a receptive audience.”

Some producers, like Eugene Landreau of nearby Hatchechubbee, have been veterans of the field day since it began four years ago. “You get good pointers up here. I like to see how the hay balers operate around here,” Landreau says.

As farm manager of Lawler Angus Farms, Bruce Randall also uses the captivated audience to try to market his product. “It's good exposure for Lawler Farms. We see if we can't get people interested in the bulls we keep out front. We actually have a prospect right now.”

Besides the ulterior motive, Randall says he enjoys having the field day at the farm because it gives him the chance to see the new innovations that various companies showcase. “Every once in a while, I run across something different. I like comparing the different balers and checking out the new fertilizers to determine if any of it could be beneficial to our program.”

Randall says planning the field day is basically low-maintenance and depends solely on the hay program. “We set a date when we hopefully have hay to cut. We just hope the weather will cooperate. Last year, we got rained out.”

This year, the rain held off for the equipment demonstration portion of the field day, as the crowd of more than 100 took turns examining the tight, round bales that the new balers created from neat, winding windrows.

“The first thing people do is stick their hand in the middle of the bale,” says Andrew Gettys, agricultural sales representative from Wire Road Tractor and Lawn Center. “I look forward to this every year.”

After baling more than two-thirds of the 75-acre field, the equipment representatives descended from the tractors for a welcome break from the heat, only to join the long line of people winding around the barn in search of a hearty steak lunch.

“It's a good time to get everyone together for a good lunch. We throw some education in there, and we got ourselves a good field day,” says Browne, as he flips sizzling ribeyes over a hot grill.

During a cool watermelon dessert, Auburn University Extension Forage Specialist Don Ball discussed the importance of forage quality. “In order to meet the animal's needs, we must look at the different factors that affect forage quality,” he says.

Ball said those factors include type of hay, fertilization, time of day hay is cut, stage of maturity at harvest, method of harvest, moisture content, and storage. He also discussed the dangers of hay fires and urged farmers to cut hay even with the chance of rain in the forecast. “There is more nutrient loss from fear of rain on hay than from actual rain on hay.”

Following Ball's forage discussion were comments by Darrell Rankins, associate professor of animal science at Auburn University, on the use of by-products and commodity feed. “It would be great to have 5 or 6 inches of vegetative grass, but that's not possible,” Rankins says. “Usually, this is the time of year to buy feed. That's not so true this year.”

Rankins says he recommends soy hull pellets, corn gluten feed and whole cottonseed as supplemental feed. “Just go with whatever is cheapest at the time,” he says.

A cool, wet breeze turned into a pouring rain, prompting Rankins to end his speech prematurely as various company representatives scattered to secure what promotional literature was left soaking on the display tables. “Looks like Bruce is finally getting some rain,” Gettys says.

Rebecca Bearden is a senior at Auburn University majoring in agricultural communications. She is completing her internship requirement with Southeast Farm Press.