Hay there – closing the circle
“Vision is when you see it and others don’t. Faith is when you do it and others won’t.” Luci Swindoll
This post is about hay and how it fits in on our farm. Hay is as subjective as pizza. Lots of different opinions, theories and methods. And of course, triple blind studies to guide us…in our haymaking endeavors. In our affluent society these days, quite a few people buy hay and/or feed for their animals – just like going to the grocery store for humans. Depending on where you live, some crops just don’t grow well, here for instance, I would be hard put to grow enough grain to feed our livestock. Maybe my 7 hens, but definitely not the 50 broilers I intend to put in my freezer this summer. So rather than try to grow grain to feed grain-eating animals, I find it is easier to match the animals to land. For us it is cattle, the ultimate herbivore. Grass grows well here, grain will not. Economically it makes the most sense. And in tough economic times it really makes sense. Matching the livestock to the land is the challenge. Most people don’t think of that when they are starting the menagerie though, using Old McDonald’s farm as a template we mix and match, add and subtract until the picture is right in our minds. Then we sit back to relax and look at the pastoral scene we have created, only to realize, “Oh $%it! We have to buy all the food for them!” Suddenly our Grown Your Own mantra, has turned into Buy Your Own – and we are right back where we started when we were getting disgruntled with the food choices for ourselves. Only now we have to decide what to feed them, since in most cases we will be eating them too. You are what you eat. And even if your reading this, and have animals for recreation, or exotics just to look at, feeding well is still important. We don’t want our companions to get sick either.
Just like making buttermilk isn’t just adding culture to milk, it is actually taking cream, churning the butter, and the resulting milk is the buttermilk – putting up hay isn’t just driving to the local hayfield or feedstore, and picking up baled hay. I live in Western Oregon, and it is said (mostly in equine circles) that Western Oregon hay isn’t worth a pinch of $hit, and that Eastern Oregon hay is much better. (Feel free if you live in Washington to just change Oregon to Washington, it’s pretty much the same in both states.) But I beg to differ, good hay can be made here on the west side. There just aren’t too many people doing it anymore, so I guess what you hear is true, most Western Oregon hay is not any good. And the people who do make good grass hay don’t usually sell it because they are guarding the fertility of their land and they know how hard it is to get that hay from start to finish. Selling hay off of your land is exporting your fertility to someone else’s land, period. It is loan coming due on too much farm land, and most people are in default in this case. We have bankrupted our native soils at an alarming rate and we will pay. We are already paying in the decline of the health of our population, sadly. Crops grown on mineral deficient soils are mineral deficient.
When I started this post I couldn’t decide where to start the hay wheel. Usually when the subject of hay comes up most people think of the baling or picking up. Here the hay crop is always on our mind, it is hard to decide which spoke of the hay wheel is the most important. If I look at a wagon wheel, the hub is the center and each spoke bears equal weight or importance. As it is with the spokes on our hay wheel, a break in the spoke weakens the whole shebang. I think then, that they are all important. I decided to start with now, and work my way back over the season of “haying.”
This is our grass hay that we made last summer from paddocks dropped out of the grazing rotation. It isn’t a planted crop, but a diverse stand of grasses, clovers, vetch, and forbs. You can click to enlarge to get a better look. There are mature grasses and clovers gone to seed, and leafy green leaves, too. Most feed information out there only deals with the protein content. But you need energy too, to help digest that protein, so the long stemmed forage with seed heads comes in handy if you happen to be a ruminant. Just like you want more than just salad (leaves) to eat, so does the cow.
This picture is for Bruce, he thought my comparison of our green hay, compared to our neighbors was due to the hay being in the baler and the dark. But I had to move part of the stack this past week, to stack more straw, so I took a photo. None of this hay has seen the light of day since last July and August and it is still as green, and as brown as it was when we put it in the barn. It has to do with the nutritional quality of the hay, actually.
Her diet is 95% our grass hay and pasture depending on the season. She’s 12, never been wormed. Yep, never been wormed. Good feeding of the correct feed makes a huge difference. If your having parasite problems, look into your feeding and mineral program. You may be feeding the incorrect feed and not enough minerals. Hay isn’t the right food for every animal. For instance goats do much better on browse, their mineral requirements are very high, and trees and bushes have a larger root system to draw up those minerals. People often ask me why I bother with a milk cow, when I could just get a goat? That really gets my goat, you know, because really I have nothing to feed them. We do not have that much brush around here, but I do have lots of pasture that is good for cows… .
Harvested sunlight for those long winter months. If your hay is high quality, the stock will clean it up. If it isn’t, they won’t. Instead of relying on lab testing for hay quality, learn to read your stock. Don’t think they are fussy if they don’t clean up the hay. And if you’re buying hay from someone who tells you they will eat the hay in January when nothing else is available, back away real fast. Anyone with equipment can make hay; it takes a skilled stockman’s eye to know good hay. And I have to say I disagree with John Seymour, not everyone can learn husbandry – I know people who have had stock their entire lives and still don’t see obvious signs of illness in their cattle year after year. You know the guy who locks his cows in a swill hole and expects them to calve in February in the mud, year after year. And then he wonders why his calves are always sick.
Remember all those seed heads in the hay picture? Our hay feeding lash-up manger is made to come apart. The feed gate raises and lowers to match the height of the deep bedding, and where we place the hay is just sheets of plywood, that sometimes get used for loading pigs, or ??? So, as you can see, it isn’t exactly a tight fit. These seeds that filter through, are excellent feed for chicks or throwing on patches of bare dirt. But most of the seeds get stratified right in the cow – just like mother nature intended. The friendly bacteria in a non-acidotic ruminant is perfect to prepare the seeds for their next cycle. If we strove to grow straight leaf hay, we would not be building our pasture seed bank. And it should be said here too, that you shouldn’t have to plant clover in a pasture, unless you want some special new variety. If your soil conditions, and grazing management are right, you will see the clover appear. If they are not, you are destined to keep buying clover seed and broadcasting it.
Kelp and sulfur.
The other thing that I think is important is minerals. Free-choice. Minerals are expensive I know, but if you can afford a gator or ATV, you can afford minerals for your stock. You’re kidding yourself, if you think your pasture quality is so high that you don’t need to offer minerals to your stock. Everywhere is different, find out from farmers in your area that feed loose minerals, what they feed. I hate to say don’t ask at the feed store or Conservation Service, but I can’t really recommend it. And if you have to mask whatever it is with molasses to get them to eat it, I would say pass. If you are offering loose minerals, don’t mix in salt, they don’t need much salt and they will not eat through it to get to the minerals.
The calves learn herd behavior quickly, and have learned to get the best pick, they had better gather round.
Timed grazing, manuring and appropriate rest is important too. This was grazed last August. It won’t see cows until April.
Clean water is an essential nutrient too.
And the ubiquitous nose dew and saliva. Every time a cow grazes she inoculates the grass with friendly bacteria that feed soil microbes .
All the pastures are grazed at least once in the season. Some are dropped out of the rotation and left to grow for hay. This puts us into a better hay making window weather-wise, too.
Succulent clovers and grasses make good grazing and good hay. Using composted animal manure favors broadleaf forbs and clovers, commercial nitrogen pasture fertilizer drives them away. I am not growing a mono-culture town lawn, I am trying to grow a diverse stand of plants to provide optimum nutrition for my cattle.
After the hay is harvested, we spread composted manure from the deep bedding to replace what we harvested. We don’t fertilize in the spring since warmth and sunlight is really what the plants need to grow at that time. Too much nitrogen in the spring can tie up the magnesium and bring on metabolic disorders (grass tetany among others) in the grazers. Sometimes the minerals are present, just unavailable due to an imbalance.
Compost completely spread, and the cycle is completed or continues – depending on how you look at it. That is how we “put up hay.”