July 18, 2005: Whoever said “summer time,
and the livin' is easy,” never made hay for a living.
This is the time of the year for hard work and plenty of sweat.
I think we can all relate to being in the top of the barn stacking
hay – no air movement and it’s about 120 degrees.
That’s not living easy. But come winter nothing feels
quite as satisfying as knowing the barns are filled with good
quality feed, and opening a bale of bright green, sweet-smelling
hay brings back a brief memory of summer.
Hay is a crop that more than most
brings to mind the word, quality. It takes a lot of planning,
work, timing and a little luck with the weather to produce
a good crop of hay. I have a friend that makes quite a bit
more hay than I do. He always says once you cut it you can
only make the quality worse, never better. His point is as
farmers we can only hope to preserve the quality we grew.
Tedding, raking and baling all diminish the quality. To what
extent is up to us.
So what does it take to produce good hay? There are as many
types of hay as there are regions of the country and animals
to feed. Some folks like legume hay, some grass and some a
mixture. Hay making is half growing it and the other half
is harvesting it. I’ll just be talking about harvesting
it, and assume you already have hay in the field.
Unless you have extremely small quantities of it, you’ll
need equipment to harvest, make and move your hay from the
field to the storage area. Hay can be put away in silos as
haylage (bulk from the field), in small square bales (40 to
70 pounds), in large round bales (1000 to 2000 pounds), and
in large square bales (800 pounds). There are advantages and
disadvantages to each system and only you can decide which
is best for your operation. No matter which you choose, the
process of making hay is the same – “Mow it, dry
it and store it.” Within that seemingly straightforward
process are a lot of work and a lot of ways to do it.
The first step is always to mow or cut the hay. It can be
mowed with a simple sickle bar mower, a haybine or mower/
conditioner, or a discbine. The idea is to cut the hay off
at ground level and begin the drying process. Most hay should
be cut when it is young and tender. Hay that is cut when it
is mature may be tough and lower in nutrient quality than
hay cut at the right time. On the other hand, most hay crops
are perennial and if they are cut too early you can reduce
their life expectancy, requiring more frequent replanting.
Mow it, dry it and store it. Within
that seemingly straightforward process are a lot of work
and a lot of ways to do it.
Hay crops at mowing will have a 75 to 90 percent moisture
content. When the hay is ready to bale it should be in the
16 to 22 percent range. That means you’ll need several
days of sunshine and breezy air to dry it properly. Here in
southeastern Pennsylvania that can be hard to come by. Rain
will do several things to hay that is partially dry in the
field. It will lower the nutritional quality, bleach out the
color, and create more work.
More work? Yes, because now you’ll need to ted the
hay, spread it out to dry, then rake it all up again. Too
much rain can ruin it altogether, but it will still need to
be removed from the field or it will smother the new growth
trying to come on.
Tedding is best done when there is still a little dew on
the hay to prevent knocking the leaves off the stems and once
again --- reducing the quality.
By now the hay should be getting dryer. So, it’s time
to rake it into windrows. Here again you’ll want to
treat the hay as gently as possible to avoid reducing the
OK. The hay is dry. The hay is raked. It’s time to
bale. Here at The Institute we put all of our hay up as small
square bales. Since we have no animals of our own we sell
all of our hay. We have two primary markets – organic
dairies and horse farms. Both only want high quality hay and
both will pay a fair price to get it. If you are using it
yourself round bales may be fine. They are harder to handle
and ship than square bales but take far less labor since everything
can be done with machinery. Or you can wrap round bales as
haylage and store them outside. Or, you could make large square
bales. The market for this type of bale is growing as more
folks get used to the idea and get equipment to handle them.
There are many options.
The hay is finally baled. Small square bales will take lots
of labor back at the barn to unload and stack. Of course,
then you get to unstack them as you feed them out or, as in
our case, restack them onto a truck when they are sold.
With a good hay field the entire procedure will be repeated
every 30 days. Lots of work.
Yes Sir, “Summer time and the livin' is easy.”
Well maybe not easy. But this winter …..
From one farm to another,