April 24, 2023

Homestead Haying

Last week, the weather forecast promised perfect weather for haying. Good quality hay needs to be cut while the grasses are long, luscious, and green, but before it goes to seed. The exception is when we grow wheat or oats for hay. Then we let it form grain heads and cut it in the milk stage, before the seed can mature. This gives the benefit of both grain and hay from the same plant. 

After cutting, it needs enough time to dry thoroughly before being stored. Rain increases the risk of mold, so the forecast of a week of dry sunny weather meant this seasonal chore went to the top of the to-do list. Dan started Monday morning by scything it. 

Dan planted a deer forage mix last autumn. The forage
mixes are economical and grow things goats like too.

Even on sunny days, our challenge to drying hay is our heavy dew every morning. It often takes until noon before everything dries out. Dan turns it twice a day. In the morning he rakes it into windrows to let the ground dry off between the rows. Later, he turns the grass and spreads it out again until the next day. Happily, the weather cooperated by holding true to the forecast.

Monday through Friday were perfect: sunny, 70sF (low 20sC), and low humidity. Rain was in the forecast for early Saturday, so after Friday evening chores, we gathered in our hay crop.

First, it's raked again into windrows and then raked into piles for picking up.

A wood hay rake really helps. Metal rake tines get caught on the stubble.

Dan raked and I packed it down into the box.

The box makes it easy to transport and . . .

easy to get into the hay loft.

We used to use tarps for this, but the box works much better.

Dan pushed and I pulled.

Tightly stuffed into the box, it took us three loads.

If I'm satisfied that it's thoroughly dry, I'll leave it in the bale-like shape the box makes. In this case, the thick oat stems weren't quite dry enough for my satisfaction, so I spread it out and will monitor it and turn it, to make sure it's dry enough and not producing heat.  

Feeding homegrown hay to our goats gives a wonderful sense of satisfaction. So far, we haven't been able to produce enough for a full year, but every little bit helps. We may get a second cutting, but we'll have to wait and see. Annuals like grains tend not to re-grow well after they're cut. 

For the goats, our homegrown hay is a favorite. It's the first thing they go for when it's in the hay feeder. Plus, every bit of waste, both as dropped hay and digested as manure, goes back to nurture the soil. (Details on how we do this are in How To One-Straw Revolutionize Your Pasture). It's one more step toward self-sustainability.


Michelle said...

I can't even imagine haying this early! And with the cold, wet season we're having, haying season around here may be delayed beyond normal . . . like last year, when hay was very hard to find, and very expensive. Ugh.

Ed said...

Putting up hay is a familiar task for me but I have never done so manually! I can imagine how gratifying it is to see all that you have done. One doesn't get that as easily when pulling a sicle bar, mechanical rake and bailer behind a tractor.

Leigh said...

Michelle, April is pretty much the month for first cuts around here. But there are some trade-offs for living in a warmer climate, such as the sun is so intense that it bleaches drying hay out. It's hard to get the lovely green hay that more northerly producers offer.

Hay got really expensive last year! We paid double when we could find it, which really did a number on my goat budget!

Ed, working with machines is never the same thing! Of course, we only have small patches, which are manageable by hand. Once upon a time, we had a Troy-bilt walk behind sickle mower. It was very helpful but it isn't manufactured any more, so it was impossible to get parts when it broke. We wouldn't mind a 4-foot sickle attachment for our small garden tractor, but those are difficult to find too.

Quinn said...

Haying (mostly) by hand...my hat is off to you and Dan!

daisy g said...

Wow, so impressive! It looks like beautiful hay, I'm sure the goats will adore it!
Well done!

Leigh said...

Quinn, working with small areas is key! I couldn't imagine doing it this way on more than an acre.

Daisy, thanks! I can't even describe how heavenly it smells. The goats will have to wait until later, though, as we still have plenty of hay we purchased over winter. And that's okay, because they are much more interested in fresh forage now, anyway.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Thank you for the photographic tutorial! Available hay makes a great difference, even for pets (we go through surprising amount with the rabbits and guinea pigs).

Leigh said...

TB, hay actually isn't that hard to grow. Or harvest. Or dry. Getting a winters-worth, though, is the challenge.

Annie in Ocala said...

That is wonderful! I have envy. Here it's too dry to grow much of anything without irrigation from Thanksgiving thru Easter... I bought a few bales of Bermuda hay last weekend that is this years cut from well north of here. Thankfully we are getting some meaningful rain this week.

Cederq said...

I grew up working on a cousin's hay farm and we used machines, but then again when you are cutting, swathing and baling hay on 60 acre and bigger lots, well you know. I like the idea of small swatches of grass, and grains to sickle and work. My goats sure loved fresh cut Bahia Grass and when the peanuts were harvested, peanut grass! It's high protein was great with meat goats (Boers). I use to use my Cub Cadet as a tractor as your hubby did, I removed the deck as I had a John Deere with a 6' cutting deck. I too had a small farm of 5 acres and later a 9 acres farm and I couldn't justify at first at but wanted a small tractor with a bucket.

Leigh said...

Annie, I didn't realize you had such a long dry season - all winter! That would be really challenging. I hope your weekend rain is a good one.

Kevin, we used to think we wanted more land, but really, it's hard to keep up with the five acres we've got(!) Peanut hay is a great idea! I plant a few peanuts every year and will have to plant more, even if just for the hay. Thanks for mentioning Bahia too.

Dan recently bought a John Deer garden tractor for $300. It's old (all metal parts!) but it runs and can take attachments. We'd love to get a few attachments for it, but they are really hard to come by. We love our Ford 801, but it's just too big for our small plots. Good equipment always has a place though.