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
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 quality.
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,