One farm task in the spring has more to do with winter than spring. Every small farm handles hay in some form or another. The current popular method is baling large round bales to feed to livestock, but the method has changed considerably with the advances in technology. In order to have enough feed for the winter, hay must be put up starting in the spring.
We use hay to feed our horses, cows, and on occasion our pigs. With the horses, the old standard small square bale is the easiest and best version of hay bale for us to use. This old standard is also the most time consuming and labor intensive bale to produce. Each 60 lb. plus bale is handled at least 7 times by hand. From the baler, to the trailer, to the hay loft, to the animal, this bale is mostly handled by hand.
When baling hay you have to find a window of opportunity, a span of several dry warm days to complete the process. There is no formula to follow or exact times to go by, the hay dries according to the weather. We have to plan according to past experience and hope the weather that is forecasted stays true.
Last night we started cutting our hay. We saw that we had 5 days with sun, not super hot but a span of dry days. The longer we wait the more the grass matures, if the grass forms a seed head then the protein content drops. Our goal is to be able to put up hay with the most protein as possible. That is not always easy to do when you have to find a window of opportunity with no rain, when the ground is not saturated from recent rain, and when there is sun to dry and cure the grass into hay.
Tonight we will continue to cut our pastures. We will also rake and turn the hay that has started to dry today. Since we only have evenings during the week to work, we will be both cutting and raking in stages over several days. We started cutting on Tuesday and plan to actually bale the hay on Saturday.
It is a lot of work, but completely satisfying to know you have food going into winter. Plus there is no better olfactory stimulation on the farm than the smell of fresh cut grass curing into hay.
Check back for updates on how our first hay cutting progresses.