While the sun shines
Jeff reflects on the sweaty work of putting up hay.

By Jeff Moyer, The Rodale Institute® Farm Manager

Balling hay at The Rodale Institute

Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world— convinces me that we're on the right road."

How to contact Jeff

Jeff's email:

Phone: 610-683-1420

Mailing address:
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530


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 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,