Hay Season

Sunday, August 5th, 2012 - news.

About 3 weeks ago we began making hay.  Our hay making season tends to drag on longer than we would like, mainly because with the old equipment we have can only do about 10 acres at a time.  The key to making good quality (nutritious) hay is not letting it get rained on while it is drying.  The upside to making hay in smaller blocks is that it mitigates some of the risk of having the crop damaged by rain.   Having a few thousand bales of hay get rained on is a lot worse than having only a few hundred.  The downside to making hay in smaller blocks is that it requires more stretches of warm, dry weather.  This has been our challenge this year with so many thunderstorms developing in the region.  It is awfully difficult to predict the weather; so deciding when to cut, rake, bale, and bring the hay into the barn is a straight-up gamble.

Making hay is a 5 step process:  cut, dry, rake, bale, store.   The variable factor in the process is the drying time. The amount of time needed for the hay to properly dry is affected by temperature, wind, humidity, quality of hay, and of course pesky precipitation.

We mow the hay with our old 1950 Ferguson tractor.  The sickle-bar mower is a little tempermental, but does a pretty good job.  A modern hay mower “conditions” the hay by crimping it between 2 big rubber rollers as is passes through the machine.  Crimping the hay makes it dry MUCH faster than when the hay is cut at the stem by a sickle mower.




Raking hay is my favourite step in the process.  I like raking hay because it is fast, satisfying, and the rake has very few moving parts so it isn’t likely to breakdown in the field.  I wish I could say the same about the baler…

After going around the field with the rake, the hay is consolidated to tidy 3-4 foot wide windrows which will feed nicely into the baler.



Ideally, baling should commence immediately after raking the hay.  It usually takes a few hours to rake the field, and over twice as long to bale it.  We try to get the whole field raked and baled on the same day, but sometimes we can’t seem to beat the weather.  The picture on the left was taken last week while we tried to get the hay baled before the storm hit.  Unfortunately we lost the gamble.  An inch of rain came down about 15 minutes after this picture was taken.



In the unfortunate situation that the hay gets rained on before it is baled, we have this great piece of equipment which can be used to dry the hay back out.  It is called a tedder, and can be used to either spread out windrows so the hay is once again flat, or it can be used to “ted” the hay back into a tall, fluffy windrow that allows the air to pass through and quickly dry the hay.  We bought this piece of equipment to help us salvage hay that would otherwise be ruined by rain and/or too much time in the field because we are busy with our other work (vegetables).  We have only had to use the tedder a few times, but I sure am glad we have it.

For us, baling is a two person job – one person drives the tractor, and the other person rides the “stooker”, which is a simple implement that hitches onto the back of the baler and helps make  piles of 6 bales.  Once the bales are “stooked” the hay can withstand a little bit of rain if they don’t get into the barn right away.





The final step in the process is storing the hay in the barn where it will be safe from rain and snow.  Having a loft full of hay also keeps the barn warmer in the winter when we have the cows in their stalls.  The amount of hay on the wagon is only enough to feed our animals for 10 days.  In this climate, we feed hay to our animals for 200 days per year or so.  That means that during the peak of the summer we need to work hard to make the most hay we can, and avoid having it get rained on so that it will have the most nutrients possible.  Frankly, the whole affair is a bit stressful.  I enjoy each step of making hay, but I don’t really like hay season!