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Haying Time

July 7, 2012


We’ve cut our hay feeding in half from the old days, but we still have to make some hay to get through the winter.  We don’t live in a brittle environment, and the stockpile suffers greatly after about 60 days of rain come late fall.  There is no nutrition left, so feeding stored sunlight on a deep bedding pack works better in our location.

I do not miss the hay races that are going on now, we’ve already been subjected to several drive-bys.  The hay gurus are curious but never curious enough to stop and ask what we’re doing.  We don’t meet the tonnage criteria, or have big new equipment either.  So sad… .  We’re actually more concerned with quality, since we are not selling our hay by the ton, we don’t have to try to win the race to the bottom coffee shop with the most tonnage or how many cuttings we can get.


If they ever did stop and ask a question or two, we would be glad to explain why our field looks different.  First we graze the first cutting in the spring, then we aren’t as likely to be dealing with tall, rank growth that has been languishing since last fall.  By letting the cows graze through the hayfields in spring we are automatically going to be making our hay when the weather is much more predictable for haymaking.  You know, make hay when the sun shines.  The sun rarely shines here long enough in May to even dry the dew off of the grass, let alone a field of hay.


We might also try to explain that the tractor activity is a lot more expensive and time-consuming than the cow activity that you see here going on at the same time.


Letting the cows harvest the grass themselves is pretty darn easy.  And now that I have figured out that litter on the ground will feed the microbes that will in turn release more minerals to grow more grass, we are seeing more and more grass.  Lest you think it’s because we have so much rain, it’s not.  That helps, but more of my life here on the farm was spent continuous grazing the cattle and running short of grass about late July or early August.  Tall grass mob stocking, stockpiling, and making the cows do the work instead of us slaving away like crazy trying to store feed, just so we could haul it back out to feed the cows, sometimes it barely had time to get to the barn.  Once you step away from that type of management you feel kinda silly.

I spoke at a grazing workshop several weeks ago, and I was really a fish out of water at the host farm.  The main thrust was making as much haylage as possible, storing it, and feeding it come July, because well you know, we run out of grass about then in Oregon… . I shouldn’t have been surprised really that the fellow was getting into backgrounding (taking 600 pound calves to 800 pounds) for the feedlot.  It was like a processed food factory.  White marshmallows of sour hay, a uniform herd of heifers destined for the feedlot, all so standardized and Mickey D-like.  McBales for the McHeifers for the McMasses.  I’m not into feeding the world, I can leave that for the more educated folk… .  I want to feed my little world first.

Our hay is nothing special, just the native pasture that grows here, a good mix of grasses and forbs.  Cut in the afternoon when the Brix is up helps too.  We move the cows in the afternoon too to take advantage of this higher energy time.

I have to say it is so much less stressful, not worrying about the hay so much.  We can make less hay of better quality and anytime I can haul less hay I am pretty happy 🙂

24 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2012 5:02 pm

    I’m not into feeding the world, I can leave that for the more educated folk… . I want to feed my little world first…..Love it and so agree.

  2. Jessica permalink
    July 7, 2012 5:29 pm

    This is the most hilariously awesome thing I’ve ever heard you say: “McBales for the McHeifers for the McMasses.” Bahahaha.

  3. July 7, 2012 5:43 pm

    Absolutely brilliant. I’m no farmer, but I sure can see plain as day, that’s some fine hay you’ve got growing there 🙂

  4. Rita permalink
    July 7, 2012 6:04 pm

    There is so much in this post that just flies over my head:
    Hay races with drive-bys.
    Backgrounding.
    White marshmallows of sour hay.

    I’m always fascinated by your life, but mystified because of the verbiage. I’ve got a medical background. I’m sure many are mystified by our language as well.

  5. Joshua Bardwell permalink
    July 7, 2012 6:12 pm

    That is a mighty big cutter you’ve got there.

    I have given up trying to rotationally graze our sheep on our property. It pains me to say it, but I just don’t think we have enough acreage to support them, especially when you factor in “the one part of rotational grazing that everyone forgets”–the rest period. When I got sheep, I read, “Three ewes and their lambs, on an acre.” I don’t know why that formula has failed us, because I’m sure it’s not based on rotational grazing, so we really ought to be doing better. Maybe it’s more like, “thirty ewes and their lambs on ten acres, or three hundred on a hundred,” but when you scale it down to, literally, three ewes (actually, two ewes and a ram), it doesn’t work.

    For the time being, we are simply feeding them hay, because we don’t want to give them up just because we can’t do better for them. But I sure do get a little jealous when I read what you’re doing with your cattle.

    • July 8, 2012 7:07 am

      Joshua, it’s little compared to most – the scale is about the same as a lawnmower on a big lawn. It takes some time to mow, and depending on the plants, clovers etc., it can be pretty slow going. One thing though, the bigger, faster ones cut through anything even when the grass is wet. This won’t allow us to make hay at the wrong time. Just a fine little detail that gets lost when you’re buying into the capital intensive farming picture. 😦 More horsepower doesn’t always equal more quality, usually just quantity.

      As for the sheep, it’s been my limited experience that sheep are pretty hard on the pasture, great for weed abatement, but they really can set the grass back more than cattle. So don’t blame yourself too much, sheep may not be the right animal for your situation. I actually use my sheep in areas where I don’t want the grass to really grow…works like a charm! I haven’t found anything yet that can take the grass down to the nubs around our greenhouses, except the horse, and he isn’t as easy to confine as the sheep.

      Don’t give up – even having them there and feeding them hay is better than land with no animals. IMHO.

      • July 8, 2012 11:48 am

        Interesting to know that sheep are best for weed abatement. We want to run some sheep on areas that have become infested with weeds and keeping it down will tackle those weeds and we have land enough to move them on later. I think my gut reaction that sheep would help us improve the land we have might be correct then.

      • Joshua Bardwell permalink
        July 9, 2012 9:04 am

        Don’t give up – even having them there and feeding them hay is better than land with no animals. IMHO.

        We agree! We considered selling them to someone who could pasture them properly, because they do prefer it, but we couldn’t bear to let them go.

  6. July 7, 2012 6:37 pm

    “Less hay is more better.”
    This message brought to you by the guy who stacks and sneezes, not the guy who drives.

  7. July 8, 2012 2:52 am

    I think it sounds like you’ve got it figured out, and any of those racers would be lucky to stop and have a chat with you. 🙂

  8. July 8, 2012 4:05 am

    Fascinating post, I think, although I know nothing about hay. But on a foundational level, lesser hay of better quality makes sense. You comment of, “I’m not into feeding the world, I can leave that for the more educated folk…” clicked with me. So many people ask why I’ve given up life as I’ve known it for the past 12 years to go and grow my own food, and your comment sums it up nicely. So it is encouraging to me to someone else doing the same. Thank you for a fine, encouraging, reassuring and heartwarming post.

  9. July 8, 2012 5:09 am

    Very interesting that you don’t run with the masses all the time. That must be why I like this blog even though you are attempting something I never will get to. I have a tendency to not believe everything the masses say too. If I haven’t tried it, I tend not to repeat what I have “heard” others say-how do you know what they say is right, if you haven’t tried it yourself; if you are just going by what others have told you?

  10. Barb in CA permalink
    July 8, 2012 2:23 pm

    Your blog has been such an education! It seems to me your grazing system is the perfect balance between least amount of work for yourselves and greatest nutrition for your animals. It doesn’t get any better than that. Thank you again for sharing your insights with us. Now that you’ve culled for the year, about how many head are you running?

    • July 9, 2012 1:43 pm

      Barb, I didn’t actually cull, just sold off the animals designated for beef sales. I would call culling getting rid of animals with undesirable qualities or unable to produce. So that leaves me with 9 adults, 6 yearlings, and 7 babies = 22 head total on about 1/4 acre per day depending on the grass.

      • Barb in CA permalink
        July 9, 2012 7:07 pm

        Okay, thanks. That helps me understand. I really do appreciate your wilingness to answer all the questions and offer so much help.

  11. CassieOz permalink
    July 8, 2012 3:56 pm

    Hello from Australia, matronofhusbandry. A blogfriend just pointed me in your direction as I’m currently raising an orphan calf (Charolais) in the hope that she might be my house cow in years to come (I don’t need lots of milk, just for us). I’d like to follow the story of your Jane from the beginning if you can let me know where it starts, please.

    • July 8, 2012 8:55 pm

      CassieOz, Jane’s story starts in May ’10, if you click on the family cow category in the side bar that should bring up posts that mention Jane. Good luck with your Charolais, they are beautiful cattle. 🙂

      • CassieOz permalink
        July 8, 2012 9:02 pm

        Thanks for your help. Lulu has been raised by us since her mamma died when she was six weeks old (snakebite). She’d gone from bottle to nipple bucket to bucket and has had an ‘auntie’ for much of her time in the home paddock. She’s halter trained and reasonably happy on a lead rope. She’s now with the rest of the ladies and calves (albeit a little socially awkward) but still comes when called, especially if I have a bucket in my hands! I plan to continue to hand feed her, handle her, put the halter on and off and such for as long as needed. I’m looking forward to reading about Jane.

  12. July 9, 2012 8:48 am

    I certainly needed a dictionary of farm phrases. So, I did not understand most of what you said. However, it seems letting the cows graze is probably more satisfying to them, more natural. I have three hens, but I like to keep them happy with free-ranging.

  13. July 9, 2012 12:03 pm

    We are in the middle of the same here! I’m learning all the time too… I only have a couple of acres of field to cut, and was given a hand scythe, so it’s even slower then you ‘little mower on a big lawn’. I’ve probably cut about an acre in the past 6 days (for about 45min each morning). The lit I have read about scything said to cut when the grass was wet with dew (to make it easier to cut), but your comment about the brix has me wondering if I should be doing it in the pm when I get home from work.

    I also found out (sadly) that I need to do something to keep our orchard mowed till the beginning of June (just like you do with your cows), so I can cut it in July. It hasn’t seen any grazing/mowing pressure at all this year, and it’s a tall, tangled mass now. The rest of the hay-field didn’t have any chicken tractors on it last year, so the grass is only about half as tall and developed (it’s also a different species set).

  14. Mich permalink
    July 11, 2012 3:57 am

    Looks like you have some good pasture there MoH, very jealous of you cutting hay. Our hay fields are still waiting for the English weather to start behaving itself!

  15. July 11, 2012 8:45 am

    I just wanted to leave a comment and let you know how much I have enjoyed your blog. I found it about a month ago by following a link from the Applegarth Gardens blog and have been voraciously reading the archives ever since and am now caught up. I have learned so much from what you are doing. Your straight-forward, common sense knowledge is refreshing. I’m not a farmer, just a gardener with chickens and ducks now making far better use of the manure and bedding in compost. So thank you. I wish their were more blogs like this one.

    • July 17, 2012 1:09 pm

      LuckyR, thanks so much for the kind comment! I think gardeners are farmers of sorts, don’t you?

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