Hay for Dummies from a Dummy

Isn't that pretty? The farmer pulling the baler and big wagon loaded with square bales! And the skies are bright blue - no chance of rain!

First off, I know nothing about hay. Do not assume that because I am married to a farmer, I know anything about this stuff. But, when we live in an environment, we pick up on a few things, so, at the risk of getting a chuckle out of my husband and the few "real" farmers who read this post, I will tell you what I know. For those of you who know Malcolm Gladwell and his idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, I am at hour FOUR on my hay learning curve! Read at your own risk.


What the heck is HAY anyway? Typically, hay is a mixture of grasses and legumes. There are all kinds of grasses that grow in hay, but the legumes are either alfalfa or clover. These provide proteins and deliciousness for the animals that eat the stuff. A few of our hay buyers with horses don't want too much alfalfa or their horses will get fat - they love it! William says, "They'll founder on it" meaning they overeat. For animals, this can cause serious issues.


A note about straw: In the photo above, the new hay is on the left and the stack on the right is straw. Straw is made of the stems of grain after it has been harvested. Rye, barley and oats make great straw. Straw is NOT fed to animals, but used for garden mulch or animal bedding - like for the chicken coop or cattle shed.

One thing is for certain, big round bales dotting the pastoral countryside are captivating eye candy for all of us, and for some of us, nostalgic. Some of you have often wondered, how in the heck do they move those things? Well, there are two main ways: use a skid steer or a tractor with a bale spear sticking out its butt. Some guys even put a spear out the front and another out the back. Once round bales are made, they can be put in rows along the field or moved to a shelter or indoor storage to keep them dry. Hay can mold over time, so dry is most desirable.


Unless you have wet hay! Haylage or baleage is what you have when you see those big plastic marshmallows laying around. This stuff is wrapped in plastic when the hay is green so it ferments. Fermentation aids in storage and nutrition. Just like any fermented food, it's good for the gut. Our neighbor raises beef cattle and feeds them haylage or baleage, but William chops his green corn in August to make silage. Silage is also stored in those big white plastic tubes and saved to feed cattle, horses, sheep, etc. in the winter months.


Why round bales and small square bales? That all has to do with machinery and muscles. Do you have a round bale feeder? Do you have a skid steer or tractor with a spear? Do you have a HUMUNGOUS shed to store your round bales? If the answer is no to those questions, you will opt for the small squares. People who have a few horses or sheep tend to work with small bales for ease of movement and storage.


Above is the round baler.


And what's all this "1st Crop, 2nd Crop, 3rd Crop" business as related to hay? Well, as the hayfields green up, farmer's begin to watch the weather and hope for a 4-5 day stretch without rain. When the hay is lush and tall, and it's sunny and warm, the farmers will cut the 1st Crop Hay. This hay is young and tender but may have a few Spring weeds in it. If the farmer can get it cut, raked and baled without getting rained on, that's a good thing! Around here, the second crop comes along sometime in July after the hayfields have had a chance to grow after 1st Crop. Again, the farmers look for that window of opportunity where they can cut, rake and bale all without rain. This typically takes 2-3 days depending on the drying conditions. Maybe you've heard the saying, "Make hay while the sun shines!" There is a reason for that - keep the hay dry as much as possible. 3rd crop hay here in Wisconsin is tricky business as late summer heat slows the hay growth and then even later summer rains make for narrower windows. Bill told me he only remembers a few times in his lifetime when a 4th crop came about out here.


That's the hay rake resting in the shade after a long day of work.

Here we see the elevator set up to help "mow" the hay. One efficient guy on the wagon unloads the hay to the elevator while another mows, stacking it carefully in the dry barn for winter storage.


There you have it, HAY 101. There might be a pop-quiz next week!


FARM STORE NEWS: Thanks for stopping by the Farm Store everyone! We have been having a ton of fun meeting new customers (from a distance, of course) and coming up with new products. This week we have a new supply of our "Wicked Hot Spice Blend" - great for tacos, chili, soups, add to rice when cooking, spice up a beef roast, add to your scrambled eggs...tasty and delicious! Garlic scapes are in, so we have a "Scape Cilantro Chimichurri" - I love this on pasta, sandwiches, or to top a steak.


New SUMMER HOURS: Thursday - Sunday 9-5


Coronavirus is on the rise in many areas, so we run as an "Honor Shop" - self-serve farm store. I like to be around to say hi, but will respect a social distance. I want you all to feel safe shopping here and be able to enjoy this amazing landscape. There are tables set up outside, a few chairs and picnic blankets are also available if you'd like to stay and enjoy our property for awhile. We have coffee and iced tea available.


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