ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

Can I collect forage for winter without a bailer?

Posted January 7, 2005

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Send it to Jeff at:

Dear Jeff,

I will be using rotational grazing on just 7 acres with a few cows and goats. I also have access to my neighbor’s 8 acres for grazing or forage production. I am looking for innovative ways to collect forage for winter, hopefully without buying a bailer.

Jim W

Dear Jim,

The value of collected forage for winter feeding has been known for hundreds of years. Obviously no balers were available then. This means that hand tools were used to cut, gather, and move the material from the field to the barn or storage area. Scythes, sleds, carts and wagons were all used. Today, many small growers still use hand scythes or small tractor-mounted sickle mowers to cut the grass, then transport the material with a pickup truck or trailer. There may be other options as well. A check of the neighborhood may turn up equipment that can be borrowed or even a custom operator who will come in and, for a fee or percentage of the crop, do all the work for you. Depending on your time constraints, this may be a good option.

Hand cutting or even sickle mowing works best on grass hay which is allowed to get ‘older’ in the field. This will reduce drying time. When modern equipment is used to cut alfalfa or clover, it crimps the material to speed up drying. Most hay growers with access to equipment also turn and rake their hay to control the drying process. This is quite difficult to do by hand. There is equipment available from garden tractor and horse-drawn size to the biggest and the best. You'll need to balance the expense of the equipment against the time you have available.

Good luck and happy hay making.

Have some questions to Ask Jeff? E-mail him directly at