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

What equipment do I need and how do I start making hay?

Posted October 18, 2007

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? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

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 they have.


Paul Crane

Dear Paul,

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 matter content?

• 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.

Good luck,