Basics of Making Hay

Making hay can be a pleasure, from the smell of that first fresh cutting on a warm summer night, to the feeling of accomplishment from that first successful harvest. Learn when cutting hay is ideal, which hay equipment to use for harvesting, the best techniques for baling hay, and how to plan out your crop for next year.

| September 20, 2013

  • The consumer’s demand for healthy food and the producer’s desire for a sustainable, profitable farming model have led to a huge growth in organic farming practices. To that end, Storey Publishing is proud to present "The Organic Farming Manual" by Ann Larkin Hansen. From producing grains, meat, dairy, and produce, to making hay and haylage, shopping for equipment, and protecting your water supply, Hansen covers it all in one comprehensive resource.
    Cover Courtesy Storey Publishing
  • Knowing how to correctly cut hay so you don’t ruin your crop is key for a successful hay harvest.
    Illustration Courtesy Bethany Caskey

Making hay is comprised of a series of steps, each as important as its predecessor. Choosing the right type of hay to grow, knowing which equipment to use, and using the best techniques for your region of the country are all key pieces of the hay-making puzzle.  In the Organic Farming Manual (Storey Publishing 2010), author Ann Larkin Hansen provides advice for all parts of the hay harvesting process. Taken from “Chapter 7: Field Crops”, this excerpt explains how to make hay successfully, from cutting to drying, raking, and finally baling.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Organic Farming Manual.

One of the quintessential smells of farming is the scent of fresh-cut hay on a warm summer evening. It warms the soul like the smell of baking bread, or the scent of wood smoke on a cool morning. When the weather holds and the equipment runs, making hay is a pleasure. When thunderstorms are building to the west and the hay rake breaks and needs welding, it gets stressful.

Hay is alfalfa, clovers, grasses, or any mix of the three that are cut while green and growing, dried in the field, then raked into windrows and baled. Most dairy farmers grow straight alfalfa for its high soluble protein levels and high yields. Many organic dairy farmers and most other livestock producers prefer a mixed grass/legume hay. Timothy and red clover used to be a common combination for a less-rich diet on heavier (having lots of clay) ground, though this mix dries more slowly than alfalfa. Some native grasses like quack grass also make good hay, though the per-acre yield is lower.

If you don’t have livestock but still want the benefits of a forage in your crop rotation, you can either grow forages to plow down as green manures or cut hay as a cash crop to sell to certified organic livestock producers. There’s always a market for certified organic hay, though it may be some distance away and require hiring a trucker.

When to Cut Hay

Young hay, cut before blossoming, has low fiber and high soluble protein levels, which boosts milk production in dairy animals and fattens young stock, but can cause runny manure, too. Older hay, cut between blossom and seed head maturity, has higher carbohydrate levels, good for maintaining breeding and working animals. Hay that is cut too old, after seed heads are mature or later, will be less palatable to livestock and they may not eat as much. In a mixed planting some species will “head out” or go to seed before others. Cutting hay that is a mixed planting is a judgment call.

9/23/2013 3:26:01 PM

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9/23/2013 3:25:25 PM

my best friends brother got a nearly new red Mitsubishi Eclipse Convertible only from working parttime off a macbook air... .......:> w­w­w.j­o­b­s­6­0.c­o­m

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