Hay Season Cycles

The Editorial Director of MOTHER EARTH NEWS examines the ways of gathering hay that he’s tried through the years.

  • hay
    We plan to fill our hay barns with roughly 50 tons of small round bales.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Sebastian

  • hay

Nothing marks the onset of summer for me like making hay. In Kansas, we often get our cool-season meadows put up by mid-June. After the hustle and bustle of getting hay into the barn, we take a more relaxed approach to cutting the warm-season meadows. We use the hay to feed our sheep in winter and to move nutrients around the place. We still hay sheep in the corral so we can mix their manure with bedding and compost it for the gardens. 

Years ago, on our cattle farm in Ohio, thousands of small square hay bales of orchard grass and alfalfa would get cut, raked, baled, hauled, and tucked into our barns. The work was hard, but it got the cattle through winters. My daughters would work in the field, I’d shuttle loaded hayracks to the barn, and hired hands would run bales up the elevator and stack them in the mow. One year, I had to unload and stack the bales myself, and nearly wore out the loft ladder. The following year, I switched to large round hay bales so one person and a tractor could handle the hay — and I vowed to never make a small bale again.

Fast forward more than 20 years to today, and we use both large and, for the past two years, small round bales. I tried a small Japanese-made baler, which made for low-stress baling and enjoyable feeding. We’ve discovered that by investing more of our labor into making small round bales, we experience more joy. We find joy in the physical labor, with the bonus of getting to spend more time with the animals, which is why we got into this in the first place. So this year, in a full reversal of my vow, we plan to fill our hay barns with roughly 50 tons of small round bales.

As I’ve entered the midafternoon of my life, I’ve picked up many other activities from what seems like a lifetime ago. Woodworking, leather sewing, and knife-making are a few. I don’t know what this means, but I imagine it’s happened to others; if you’ve ever had a change of heart or cycled back to the way you used to do things when you were just starting out, I’d love to hear about it. As always, feel free to send me an email at HWill@MotherEarthNews.com, and maybe collectively we can make some sense of it all.

See you in August,




Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


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