June 9, 2011

Haying Season is Here

The beginning of haying season is a sign that summer is here.  We grow forages (grass and alfalfa) during the summer and harvest them to be stored for winter feed.  The whole process is a work of art and weather everything to do with how much hay we can make in a summer and what the nutritional quality of the hay will be.  This time of year we check and recheck the weather 100 times a day looking at current forecast and the extended 10 day forecasts.  We need no rain from the time we cut the hay till we get it baled, but we need rain as soon as we get the hay baled and off the field so that the next crop will be plentiful.  Then there is the time window of when the forages are at the right stage of maturity to give us not just large quantities but also the right nutrient content.  In this part of Nebraska we will get 3-4 cuttings of hay on non-irrigated fields and up to 5 cuttings on irrigated fields.  On our farm we have some hay under pivot irrigation, some dry land (non-irrigated fields) and we have a sub-irrigated meadow.  In Nebraska portions of the state have areas where the underground water table is high enough that the roots of the plants can reach it and "water themselves". 
We have several steps to insure we put up good quality hay for our cattle. 
Step 1 - we use a machine called a Swather to cut the hay and put into windrows (long strips of piled hay).
Step 2- we wait and let mother nature preserve the hay by drying it down (we target (14-18% moisture).  To dry and it turns to dust in the baler, too wet and it will mold and spoil.
Step 3 - we rake 2 windrows together to make bigger windrows.  This cuts down on the number of times the tractor and baler have to through the field.  This allows us to cut down on fuel use because it takes much less fuel to rake than to bale.  It also makes it easier to bale.

Windrows of hay being raked together.
 Step 4 - We roll the windrows up into a round bale.  The bales weigh around 1200-1400 pounds and have a little bit of twine wrapped around the outside to hold them together.  These bales are what we will feed the cattle and horses next winter.  There are several types of bales small square (40-100 lbs), large square (500-800 lbs or bigger 1200-1400 lbs) and round bales.  We bale most of our hay in round bales, but we do put up some small squares to put in the barn when we need to only feed a few animals at a time.
Step 5 - Remove the bales from the field and stack them together.  We have stack yards near our fields.  

Freshly made bale of Hay.
 This all has to be done quickly (2-5 days) and we need days of hot dry weather to dry the hay, and mother nature doesn't always play fair. 
We let the hay dry during the day, but then if it gets too dry we have to wait till night to bale so that we don't turn it to dust.  But if we get too much dew then it makes it too wet and the hay will mold.  We spend a lot of nights out in the fields till 1 am to get the hay put up right!!

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