A Guide to Growing, Harvesting and Baling Hay

Terry Grossman provides a detailed guide to growing, harvesting, and baling hay for your homestead.


| July/August 1975



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The mower shown in Figure 2 cuts a seven foot swath and ought to be able to handle one acre per hour.


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Hay is basically dried vegetation: usually a legume such as alfalfa or clover, or a grass such as timothy or brome. It's one crop that can be raised with proper care in any part of the country where weeds will grow, and it's a must for any self-sufficient farmer who keeps livestock.

A Guide to Growing, Harvesting and Baling Hay

The choice of plant (or plants) to be grown for hay depends on many factors: climate, availability of water, tonnage needed, type of livestock being fed, etc. Local preferences are usually a good guide. (A detailed study of the characteristics and requirements of forage crops is found in The Stockman's Handbook by M.E. Ensminger, available for $27.25 from The Interstate, Danville, Illinois, or from MOTHERS Bookshelf. — MOTHER.) 

Whatever hay crop you choose can be grown either as part of a farm rotation plan or in a permanent meadow. The former system has the advantage of helping establish uniform soil fertility (particularly if one of the legumes is raised). The latter, however, provides stubble for winter pasture, helps to control erosion, and is particularly suitable for marginal land.

A plot of earth is prepared for forage crops in much the same manner as for most field and vegetable plantings except that if you're reseeding an old hayfield, you may omit plowing and merely disc the area. Soil tests should be made before seed is sown to determine any deficiencies and manure, lime, compost, ground rock, etc., spread as required. Hay has been grown for thousands of years without chemical fertilizers, and there's no need for them today. In fact, organically raised fodder is better for livestock and is less susceptible to insect infestation (which is quite rare on healthy soil).

Hayseed is planted like grain: spread either by hand (in the classic manner of a farm wife scattering chicken feed) or with a hand-cranked broadcaster available at low cost (around here, about $10.00 — MOTHER.) from many hardware stores and seed houses.

A more uniform stand of hay is created by a grain drill (see Figure 1 in the image gallery), a machine which is pulled by a team or tractor and plants the seeds in evenly spaced rows. You may be able to borrow a drill from a neighbor, or (here in Colorado, at least) you can hire a custom operator to do the work for a small charge per acre.





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