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

Can you advise me about baling wheat just as it is about to head out?

Posted July 20, 2004

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,

Can you advise me about baling wheat just as it is about to head out? Would you know if a person could feed that to horses, if it would be harmful to them in any way?

Also, what mix of seed would be ideal for a hay crop for horses. And what do you recommend planted as far as pounds per acre?

Finally, where would a person find a picture description of the particular grasses that usually are found in hay—such as timothy, brome, etc.?

Any help you can offer with these questions is greatly appreciated.


Dear Tammy,

Thanks for considering New Farm as a source of information on your agricultural questions. I’ll try to address each of your concerns, but please realize the answers are complex. I’m not sure where you are located, so my responses will reflect what works here in southeastern Pennylvania; things could vary in other regions in terms of crop selection and weather patterns.

Baling wheat in head – Typically we do this with rye, not wheat, and it is used as a bedding material, not for feed. Wheat has a higher value as a grain crop than rye. The “bleached rye” straw makes for nice bright bedding material for horses or dairy cows. Horses are generally fussy about what they eat. I would say that too much wheat will give the horses stomach problems; a call to a local veterinarian or your state university equine center will give you the best advice on that.

Hay for horses – Here we plant a mixture of alfalfa and timothy or alfalfa and orchard grass as hay for horses or dairy cows. Most buyers are much more concerned with quality—the timing of the cutting, the amount of rain that hit the hay once it was cut, the amount of weeds in the hay, the color and smell of the hay, etc.—than they are with the percentage of legumes and grass in the hay. I would stay away from the clovers, since they can be harder for the fussy stomachs of horses.

Hay seeding rates – Here again, the standard rates listed for the various hay crops in your state’s agronomy guide for conventional farmers will work for you as well. Keep in mind, if you are starting hay organically, that you need to pay close attention to the timing of your planting. And I recommend the use of a nurse crop, such as a small grain, to help establish the hay, since the support of herbicides to control early weeds will not be available to you.

Picture I.D. – I don’t have one particular source that I consider best, but Purdue University has a very good forage page ( that has nice photos and written descriptions of many hay and forage crops.

Hope this helps.


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