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Creaming the Crop

July 16, 2014

1-1-hay 1920
Can you ever say enough about hay?  I could write a book about haying.  I know it’s the crop we worry about the most.  Everything, and I mean everything falls to the wayside when it’s time to make hay.  As much as I love this photo of my dad on this loose hay stack there is no way I would attempt this now with so many mouths to feed during the winter.  I just don’t think we could get the volume of hay cured and stored in the weather time frame we are always dealing with.

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Red

We’ve progressed a little on the farm since the loose hay days, probably to the 1950’s through the 90’s as far as the hay equipment goes.  The hay?  No matter how you cut it, the green grass has to be cured enough to store.  Some things don’t change.

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Right now, I’m worrying about the hay for Jane, the house cow, she works the hardest of the cows, so she gets the best hay we can grow.  Our hay isn’t just grass, as a diverse pasture makes a diverse hay crop.  All that diversity means varying stages of maturity in the plants.  Some of the grass varieties may be may be drier, but the clovers and other forbs take some time to cure.  Joel Salatin calls it a salad bar, and that’s about the best description I can think of.

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I am creaming the crop though for the cream maker.  The most clover laden sections of the hayfield will go in Jane’s hay stack, the rest goes to the haybarn for the beef cows.

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Last weekend we barely beat the rain, it was falling as we brought the last load to the barn.  So now we wait for this field to cure and hope to beat the predicted rain again.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. Stumplifter (Andrea) permalink
    July 16, 2014 7:48 am

    I am wondering if your father’s haying method would be appropriate for a smaller holding with fewer animals. We hope to buy a farm within the year and my first goal is to acquire an oxen team to start training. Beyond the team, we would like to have a house cow or a small group of goats (5-6). Do you think that the older ways could be feasible for this scenario?

    • July 16, 2014 8:05 am

      Stumplifter, if you think you can store at least a ton+ of hay per animal and get it made in time. That’s a conservative estimate too, and really depends on how many months of the year you need to feed, as opposed to grazing. Loose hay requires more storage space because it’s not compressed, and it’s very hard to estimate how much hay you have put away. Basically you would need to cut it, let it cure, gather it, and then get it to storage, or build haycocks outside if storage wasn’t available. As far as estimating you could start with the assumption that you could get a yield of two tons of hay per acre if you have a good stand of grass. I have no idea of the quantity of loose hay on that wagon, but I know that the truck has 100 bales or 2.5 tons on it. Other things to keep in mind is that the you will have 3 different classes of animals there all needing a little bit different feed at different times. I would definitely try it and have a backup plan for buying in hay if you get behind the eightball.

    • Asa permalink
      July 16, 2014 9:45 pm

      I don’t know about your continent but here in Sweden you can still see hay put up on long hanging devices to dry, and the way to know how much loose hay you have, is to know how many lengths of the hanging device feed each animal. This is probably something you have to learn by doing it, but you can quite easily build the hanging devices. The easiest are made by two “A”:s with 3 cross-sections instead of only one, also the A should have its legs long enough to cross each other at the top. Then you need the bars to go between the A:s, we use 5 of them, two in the lowest section and one each for the others, with the top bar going between the tops. The A:s will be falling over unless you support them so for each A we also have a stick ending with a V cut that we lean the A on. When you put it up, you lay the bars on the ground where you want to hang your hay, you put up each A leaning outwards on its stick (they should be facing each other), and you put up the two bottom bars. They should not be too far apart, it’s just to make it easier to balance. You fill the bars with “rolls” of hay packed somewhat tightly, when you are done you put up the next bar and fill it and so on. The top layer is the most difficult because it acts like a roof and you need to use the longest straws for that, and kind of lay the hay not so much in rolls as in orderly “packs”. You finish it off by “combing” the hanging hay lightly so that any rain will travel along the “roof” straws and drop off instead of continuing down inside the hanging hay. The whole idea is to have the top slightly wider and longer than the sections underneath, since the top protects the rest. Done correctly, it stands quite a lot of rain and you can bring it in after the next period of sunny weather, you just stick your arm in between the bars and feel if it’s dry. There are a number of varieties in Sweden, the “cheapest” being just two sticks put down firmly in the ground and iron wire drawn between them, grounded on the outside of each stick to hinder a collaps. However, it is very difficult to balance the hay rolls on the wire and not something I would recommend for beginners… And oh, you don’t wait for the hay to dry before hanging it, the hangning is done the same day as the cutting or the next day. It should not be too dry but not too heavy either. Quite heavy work but the hay turns out wonderfully. And this might all be old news to all of you out there in which case I apologize for my very long comment ;-). We did our hay by tractor/bales this last weekend but a very cool and dry June with temperatures actually below freezing for 3 nights towards the end (a first for me) has made the grass grow very slowly and thinly and I am once again happy that I still buy most of my feed from my neighbour who has all the latest equipment. I hope you escape any more rain until you are finished!

  2. July 16, 2014 8:37 am

    How many acres this time?

    Go ahead and write the book.

  3. Ben permalink
    July 16, 2014 8:43 am

    Glad you made it! We got a little rain here, not enough to matter but enough to be a pain for the hay makers.

    • July 16, 2014 9:21 am

      Ben, I thought we might not make it, we killed ourselves Saturday getting in 500+ bales, and just got the last 220 Sunday as the first rain started. We actually had some good showers, the garden was pretty happy 🙂

  4. July 16, 2014 9:40 am

    Love the vintage picture! If it ain’t the heat it’s the raindrops. Oh the challenges of Pacific NW Haying! Beautiful hay… Lucky Jane!!!

    • July 16, 2014 12:20 pm

      FCF, yes, today it’s the heat! It’s hard to wish for rain this time of year though, someone has some hay down somewhere. But I’m kind of hoping for some just because of fire danger.

  5. Carrie permalink
    July 16, 2014 10:47 am

    At the time of the picture I guess your Dad was mowing it rather than scything? Even in his seventies I recall my Grandfather speedily cutting a sizeable orchard so I guess with enough skilled helpers and a bit of team work… it perhaps didn’t take that much longer than with a horse-drawn mower. Just less manpower.

    • July 16, 2014 12:19 pm

      Carrie, yes a horse drawn sickle bar mower by that time in the 1920’s at least here anyway. I never saw much scything going on, although we have a scythe.

  6. Bee permalink
    July 16, 2014 3:41 pm

    Rain and hay always seemed to go together. We raised oat hay, and it was usually ready in Northern California the first few weeks of May. Ebeven if it had been dry for weeks, there was nearly always a rainstorm when my dad had hay on the ground.

  7. July 16, 2014 10:52 pm

    I feel your pain, we have our second load drying, it was cut two days ago and turned yesterday and this morning it was foggy. I think it will be another day of drying today and baled tomorrow before the expected rain on Saturday. I never realised how stressful the hay harvest would be and much more crucial now as we are feeding animals not just managing the land. Last year we had it all done and dusted in five days, but this year has been much more unpredictable and so did half. We were also offered another field to cut and so we will leave the other half cut field to recover to put some carbon back into it. It is a steep section that probably would benefit from leaving one year.

    This was our first attempt at a hayrick along the lines of the one described by Asa built on two A frames resting against each other.

    It is not as full as the ones done by my Latvian neighbours

    • July 17, 2014 5:08 am

      Love this! Livia ( a reader ) has a photo on her old blog too where she made one, hopefully she’ll chime in, I lost her link.

      We pulled in our horns a bit on this second field and only did half too, maybe we could have done the whole thing, but definitely we can get half in the barn before it cools off. I’ll be glad when it’s all done and we can move onto something else. Fingers crossed your weather holds!

    • Asa permalink
      July 17, 2014 11:09 pm

      Joanna, I have actually not seen one where the A:s are leaning towards each other, so that one was new to me. Especially the varieties with poles and wire/multiple bars are often made very long here, we had one with 9 sections last year but turned to the A variety after that because it is easier and quicker for one person without much experience to set up. This is us building the long one last summer (we turned to the A variety afterwards since we had a storm that tipped this one’s twin over):

      I hope you can see it although it is on Facebook.

      • July 18, 2014 11:25 am

        I hadn’t seen the wooden version before. A Swedish friend of mine did rig up a wire one. It is fascinating the different ways of putting up hay.

  8. Mich permalink
    July 17, 2014 8:14 am

    We used to bale around 1250 small bale hay every year for my herd of Dexters & 1 token equine…. Stressful. The obsession with the weather forecast, checking whether it’s dry enough to bale, sore muscles from carting the bales, stacking the bales.
    This year big bales done & dusted double quick…the weather is with us tho due to break with big storms at the weekend. 29c today & roasting hot for middle England.

    • July 17, 2014 8:48 am

      I know and there is no way around it, it just has to be done. Stay cool!

    • July 17, 2014 11:23 am

      We had someone do big bales one year, but lost one as it rolled down the ski hill and into a ditch. At least the small round bales we use now are not going to cause serious injury if they roll down the hill – used to be a ski hill in Soviet times. I do travel behind the tractor and just turn them though to make sure they don’t set off and end up on the road. Unlikely at 30kg but those big monsters! I shudder at the thought.

      • Asa permalink
        July 17, 2014 11:12 pm

        We had one rolling down the road and what the heck do you do? No time to call the neighbours to tell them to get out of the way… luckily it went into the woods before it left our property but what a horror that was…

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