We just moved onto a 120-acre farm that was farmed with cattle
20 years ago and sheep on part of it seven years ago. I am
new to farming and will do it part time in the Saskatchewan
area. We are going to farm llamas, horses and alpacas. I do
not know where to start; the grass has been seeded seven years
ago only where the sheep were grazing, and I am not going
to have a lot of animals to start. I know we are going to
have to buy hay this year, but next year or the year after
do I have to seed? What equipment do I need to hay square
bales (tractor, cutter, baler). I do not know how to begin,
and the dealers just try to sell me the most expensive equipment
Thanks for the email and the very relevant questions on
hay, pasture and animals. I’ll start by saying you’re
not alone. I get emails every week from folks just like your.
The first step will be for you to take stock of where you
are. By that I mean the following:
• Take a good, hard look at the soil you’ll
be working with. Get some soil tests to allow some perspective
on how the past farming practices have affected the chemical
and biological components of the soil. Is the pH where it
should be to support grass growth? What’s the organic
• Next, look at the plants growing there now. Are
they the species you want for hay or pasture? What weeds
are in place?
• Now take a look at your budget. You are accurate
to note that equipment dealers want your money, that’s
their business. You need to decide how you want to put your
hay away. Do you have access to labor to handle hundreds
or thousands of small square bales? Do you have the proper
buildings to store them in? Could you use a mechanical stacker
to do some of the work? Will you be selling hay into the
market, and what size bales would buyers prefer? Would round
bales be faster and easier? Will you want to make wrapped
round bales for haylage?
Once you’ve answered these questions you’ll be
in a better position to look for equipment. There are no right
or wrong answers; it all depends on how you want to go about
it. For small square bales you should have a haybine or a
mower/conditioner to cut the hay. These come in many sizes,
from 7 feet on up. They can be pulled with a tractor or might
also be self-propelled. Often when buying used equipment –
and I suggest you start with used equipment – the size
or type you buy will be related to what you can find and what
condition it’s in. Then you’ll need a rake, and
again there are many types – rotary, side delivery,
etc. You’ll probably want a tedder to roll the hay and
speed the drying and, finally, a baler. If you plan on using
bale wagons, you’ll need more than one. If you use a
mechanical stacker, you can skip the wagons.
Now you’re ready to get to work:
• You may need to do some tillage to establish your
hay seed or pasture mixes. If you don’t have the resources
to buy tillage equipment, think about working with a neighbor
to accomplish this task.
• Plant your seed at the optimum time (check with
your local governmental or university extension folks to
give you information specific to your area).
• Be sure not to graze your new seedlings too early
or too long, as overgrazing will just encourage weeds and
reduce your overall production.
And finally, even though you will be doing this part time,
be aware that in haymaking, timing is everything. Any operation
done too late or too early can reduce the quality of the end
product. With hay, the quality is really in your hands, as
long as the weather cooperates.
Good luck on this new and exciting venture. Email back any
specific questions you may have.