Skip to content

Hay there – closing the circle

March 31, 2010

“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.”

46 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2010 7:35 am

    Great post! I absolutely love that quote! mind if I steal it for my blog? I need to read that one daily for awhile. I enjoy how you freely share all your knowledge. Thank you!

    • April 1, 2010 8:15 am

      Jessika, thanks! It is a great quote – and a very good reminder when things get tough or when you have to go against the grain. I stole it from someone, so you can steal it from me 🙂

  2. chrisMD permalink
    April 1, 2010 8:43 am

    My great-grandfather used to “fluff” the hay before giving it to the cows (maybe he had one or two). The “fluff” caused the seeds to drop out, and he would take the seeds and throw them back on the hay meadow. Now, he was a “city” farmer because he lived in the village with his two cows, one goat, twelve chickens, pig, and rabbits, and he had a carpentry business in his house. Nearly every house in the village (the baker, the shoemaker, etc.) had a similar number of animals. His hay meadow was across the street on the other side of the brook, so it wasn’t far from the house. But I often think – HOW OBSERVANT to think to throw the seeds back so the meadow stayed healthy, and HOW CONSERVATIVE to think the seeds were valuable enough to make the effort. No seed houses around – for how many hundreds of years were the villagers doing that?

    • April 1, 2010 11:46 am

      ChrisMD, I love your comment! We have become so accustomed to purchasing what we need, we never think to question what came before we became so “smart.” I get snickered at behind my back for leaving the grass get to the seed stage – oh my!

  3. April 1, 2010 8:45 am

    You are a great teacher. I enjoyed the photos and the study of hay. While I do not have cows, I find it most interesting.

    Your chicken article makes me miss my chickens. Lovely photos.

    Thanks again for all you do education.

  4. debra permalink
    April 1, 2010 8:53 am

    Brilliant post! I’m a former Washington dairy farm child, now long-time city dweller (NY and LA) and love reading your thoughtful posts. Thank you so much for the education.

  5. April 1, 2010 8:53 am

    I read these posts, sometimes, not because I expect to have animals any time soon, but to stiffen my backbone against the pushback I’m getting. The latest is the offer to find someone to harvest my pasture for me, and take it away. Thanks – and no thanks, I said politely. If you know someone who wants to graze it, we might be able to work something out. Otherwise I’ll pay someone to cut it and let it lay rather than have them take it away.

    The stares of incomprehension and anger at how I’m going to *ruin* my land are difficult to take.

    I tried to say – gently, oh so gently – that if someone takes it away I’ll just have to look for more organic matter to bring in – but that is another affront. I think the goal is a clean look. I’m not sure. The anger is so palpable that I haven’t been able to push past it and understand why this is so offensive.

    • April 1, 2010 12:00 pm

      Hayden, it is hard to go against the grain – because something different is often seen as a threat, it is hard to navigate the waters around you. Don’t despair – we have the same trouble. The most “productive” crop we raise these days is “fodder” for the neighborhood CREEP FEEDER (our name for the local cafe.)

      You just have to steel against the naysayers and keep plugging away. I got called a butthole yesterday on a popular cow forum for questioning the practice of worming with chemical wormers that are specifically labeled “not for use in lactating dairy animals” I’ll never understand that way of thinking – I have always found it easier to feed, than administer medicine. Name calling aside, I still had to speak up. If one person changes what they are doing it is worth it. Frankly, if a person is going to use all the medicines and allow sickness to be common, I don’t know why they bother – they should just go to the store and buy their milk. etc.

      Hopefully, when the growing season opens up for you, you can connect with some like-minded people who will echo your thoughts and bounce good vibes back at you. The threatened ones will never go away – but hopefully they will quiet down. Good for you for standing up for your beliefs.

      • Marcia/WY permalink
        April 1, 2010 4:11 pm

        Just HAD to go find that thread:)) I’ve been giving my sheep a “potion” twice a year of ACV, garlic and honey which seems to work but haven’t done anything yet with Molly milk cow and calf…what do you use to worm dairy and beef cows?

        • April 1, 2010 7:54 pm

          Marcia, did you find it? I don’t worm the cows, and just before the calves go out on pasture in the spring I have used Basic H. Having adequate minerals and rotating pasture makes a huge difference. But folks who practice continuous grazing are the ones who have worm problems. There is no chance for the cycle to break when the animals have constant access to the same pasture for months on end.

        • Marcia/WY permalink
          April 2, 2010 5:38 am

          I did find it and got a chuckle – it’s kind of the mindset of folks around here – we had a huge grasshopper problem late last summer in the area – we personally just let our chickens roam in the afternoon with great results. One neighbor said he had sprayed his garden with some miracle chemical – killed the hoppers but he couldn’t eat the veggies…hmmmm…as quoted from a local judge…”I can’t fix stupid”. Thanks for the worming info…I think I will just do nothing for Molly and baby – they have over 20 acres of pasture to roam just by themselves.

        • April 2, 2010 6:40 am

          Marcia LOL, if it wasn’t so sad it would be funny. One guy we knew who was selling raw milk (I thought he got it) called frantic because his chickens were pecking each other and eating all their eggs. The only thing he could think of was to grind off their beaks! Our first question was: Are you feeding them? Sounds like they need some protein… Sure enough – money was tight, the cows were getting first dibs and the chickens were expected to free range and fend for themselves – which they were doing :O

          I think Molly will be just fine – pharmaceuticals can become a crutch. Della is jealous, she want 20 acres to roam 🙂

  6. April 1, 2010 9:48 am

    Terrific post! So complete. Thank you so much for your thought and time.


  7. April 1, 2010 9:58 am

    Wonderful post again! Your calves are looking good. Give Della a pet for me, everytime I see her I want to pet her.


    • April 1, 2010 12:03 pm

      Linda, I’ll tell Della, she would love an extra neck scratch! She is shedding like crazy and loves to be brushed 🙂

      That’s last year’s calves, ours won’t be born until May. Those bambinos are now officially teenagers :O

  8. Andrew permalink
    April 1, 2010 11:23 am

    G’day – I totally love your blog. It’s so inspiring. I’m a city bloke in Australia, with 1,200m^2 (1/3 acre) of fruit and vegie gardens. So your blog is stretching to a wide audience. I get lots of inspirations and ideas from the way you are doing things on your large scale.

    Just wanted to let you know because a little while ago I think you wrote questioning why you are blogging.

    Thank you for taking the time to keep your blog running. And I LOVE the pictures!

  9. April 1, 2010 1:16 pm

    Wonderful pictures! I grew up on a farm with cows, I miss the smell of fresh cut hay. I even miss the smell of cows.

    • April 1, 2010 7:56 pm

      Sense of Home, thank you, I agree hay is one of those summer scents that stick with you. Our neighbor who jogs by our haybarn calls it the nasal passage because she can smell the sweet hay 🙂

  10. michelle permalink
    April 1, 2010 3:17 pm

    i just wish i lived next door to you so i could follow you around like a lost little puppy and learn everything you have to teach… you have an amazing amount of knowledge; keep up the good teaching, we are out here learning from you even if you can’t see us- we’re here!

  11. April 1, 2010 3:24 pm

    I am looking forward to having enough pasture for my animals and hay with the purchase of sixty-eight acres. I have people wonder why I would want the pasture I purchased and not put it into corn production. Some are arrogant enough to think that my “hobby farm” animals don’t need the same quality feed as production animals, meaning larger farms. I would hate to see the beauty destroyed to have it put into crop production. Instead, I want to make it healthy and stop the erosion. I want to work with the land, instead of fighting it.

    • April 1, 2010 7:59 pm

      Teresa, sounds like a great plan – can go wrong with grass. Growing crops is a trial for sure. I agree with you all farm animals should be fed well, hobby or not. Congratulations 🙂

  12. Liz J permalink
    April 1, 2010 4:12 pm

    Greatn pictures……and so much important and useful information……thank you!

  13. April 1, 2010 5:35 pm

    Agreeing with michelle, above. I’d love to be able to follow along and ask questions. It’s inspiring to see what goes into thoughtful farming – the way my grandparents had lived.

  14. Rose permalink
    April 1, 2010 10:50 pm

    Another good post, and the point about goats – yeah, that makes me go EEK as I have tended goats, and I’m always stunned at the amount of people who get goats because they want to “trim the grass”. How about your newly planted ornamental shrubs, your small saplings, and your prized rosebushes? If I had woodland I wanted to clear from stubby saplings, I’d be all about goats, but all I have is a yard, and that just won’t do.

    • April 4, 2010 5:58 am

      Rose, my neighbor keeps milk goats and she has a time keeping them safe from cougars and keeping them in browse. It’s a lot of work, but she is scared of cows – too large. So I guess for her goats do the trick.

  15. sderoote permalink
    April 2, 2010 8:20 am

    A truly lovely and fulsome post! Thank you for wrapping vision and dedication in genuine, lively practicality. I am in no place or position to have cows, and until your post even if I was I never would have considered it. I’ve changed my mind.

    • April 4, 2010 5:59 am

      sderoote, thank you, I love cows, luckily they are a good fit for our land. Wonderful companions!

  16. April 2, 2010 10:08 am

    Do you have any trouble w/ those annoying thistle plants? They grow crazy around here. We keep them cut down on our land, but right across from us is a field of thistles. Just curious if you have those in your area or not.

    • April 4, 2010 6:10 am

      Kay, no we don’t have too many thistles. Just a couple patches here and there. Weeds and Why They Grow is a good reference guide.

      Mowing them just at bloom stage can really set them back while you are working on your soils.

      Ours are mostly around former high manure concentration areas, like the barnyard, or corral. And sometimes those soil conditions persist for years. Where my grandfathers blacksmith shop was, grows a nice bunch of persistent weeds. The blacksmith shop was moved in the 1920’s! So almost a hundred years later, what happened with that patch of soil is still affecting it today. So when people buy property, they have no idea what has gone on before.

      The thought to most that a weed is growing there because the conditions are perfect for that particular plant is foreign to most. Ortho tells us to kill the weed, not cure the problem. The weed isn’t the problem it is the messenger! But Ortho won’t make money telling you that.

  17. April 2, 2010 11:29 am

    I am enjoying reading your blog. I don’t expect to ever live on a farm or even have so much as a chicken, I just tend to my little “city” backyard garden in the suburbs. But reading things like this gives me a much greater appreciation and knowledge of the food I do purchase, and a better understanding of the need to buy things like organic or grass fed for better health. Thanks!

    • April 4, 2010 6:11 am

      Terry, thank you for that. It is important for the buyer to know all this too. Thanks for saying it so well!

  18. April 2, 2010 1:31 pm

    Here we buy all our feed but it also makes sense for us to do it that way and save our native grass for grazing. Something that we do practice though is feeding certain types of hay in areas that need “re-seeding”. It works too 😉 Great teaching post as usual.

    • April 4, 2010 6:12 am

      Linda, I know you buy your feed now, but you didn’t use too – so you know exactly how hard of work the haying is. We seed down problem areas too with feeding. Easiest seed planting I have ever done 🙂

  19. April 3, 2010 3:12 am

    Cute Della…When she is due? Please tell her I said hi : )

    (I wish my wife would let me have a cow…we would come and buy a calf from Della.)

  20. Jill B permalink
    April 3, 2010 5:37 am

    I have to commend you on all of your information you give out. I had horses not cows but the best hay I ever bought for them was from a dairy farmer who had hay like yours. When I opened up a bale in the middle of winter it was like a fresh summer breeze on new mown hay.
    You are a credit to farming and I am reminded again how little we pay attention to our food details and that of our livestock. Thank you so much for writing and showing pictures of your farm. We need you to teach at a local AG school!!

    • April 4, 2010 6:15 am

      Jill B, nice hay is a wonderful thing isn’t it? We sneak the dried plantain and dandelions out of the flakes when the cows aren’t looking! Very bitter and tonic-like, I am sure they relish them in hay as much as in the pasture. Thanks.

  21. Laura Puffenbarger permalink
    April 4, 2010 4:29 am

    Loved this post! Very informative and GREAT looking hay!

  22. April 5, 2010 9:11 am

    Curious about your broiler field pen. I had a bird feeder out on the lawn. When I moved the feeder I was shocked at the brilliant green grass that grew where all the bird droppings had been. Best fertilizer there is! (And yes, a year later it’s still taller and greener and taller than the rest of the lawn.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: