Anything on restoring 15- to 20-year-old fields to produce
horse and sheep hay? I need some advice!
I can't tell much about the current condition of your fields
from the email you sent, so I'll just give you some general
information on bringing fields back into production. Then,
if you have specific questions, drop me another email with
First, assess exactly what you've got. That means starting
with a simple soil test from your Extension office or private
laboratory. While this won’t give you a complete picture,
it will at least give you a snapshot of where your soil is
from a chemical perspective. Then take a look at the crops
and weeds, or any brush currently on the surface. Will standard
tillage be able to handle what’s growing there, or are
more drastic measures needed?
You can't plow heavy brush or small trees with a farm tractor
and a standard plow. If the fields are large and need to be
tilled, think about bringing them back in small sections to
prevent soil disturbance, since large sections are more prone
to erosion. Any soil amendments you need should be put down
before tilling. For some fields, a disking and re-seeding
might be enough. In any event be sure the soil surface is
relatively flat and smooth to make your cutting, raking and
baling operations easier.
Timing for the establishment of the hay crop will be critical,
since weed competition can be a serious issue in organic systems.
This is due to the slow germination of the perennial hay species
needing to compete with fast-germinating annual weed species.
To overcome this effect, many organic growers start hay under
a nurse crop of wheat or oats. These nurse crops can be harvested
as grain in mid-summer or mowed down late in spring and used
as hay or haylage—or they can be left on the ground
if they aren't thick enough to smother the young hay seedlings.
You will need access to machinery and the labor to operate
it, and you may already have what you need. If not, consider
hiring a neighbor to help prepare the soil and get the seed
planted. Anything you can do up front in terms of good soil
preparation and good planning will pay off in the quality
of your hay and the ease with which you can make it.