Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Make hay while the sun shines

I have two favorite seasons: hay season and show season. Conveniently they are both in the summer. Weather in western Washington is such that we usually get our first cutting of hay by 4th of July. School was out around June 23rd or so every year, so it was just about time for Grandpa to start cutting hay. There's nothing I love more than the smell of fresh cut grass/hay. That just screams "SUMMER!!!!" to me. Needless to say, summer is my favorite season. As a kid, it was 10 weeks of no school, lots of time at the farm with the show cows, fun times showing our cows at the county fair at the end of July and of course, putting in hay.

Tedding the back field on our property
Grandpa doesn't get on the tractor anymore, but my brother sure makes up for it. Right now, he has 13 fields cut and it's June 24th. We're in a drought right now, so that means hay season is early. It's been dry and it's supposed to be in the 90s later in the week. Talk about a heat wave!



One of the awesome things about using the larger cab tractors instead of the smaller open cab tractors is that there is a buddy seat and I can ride along. I was excited when my brother asked if I wanted to ride along to bale hay across the road last night and then again to ted hay for the better part of the afternoon today. Tedding kicks up the hay after you cut it to help it dry. After tedding, it's raked into windrows and then baled. If all goes as planned (and you know it often does not), we're raking and baling the back field tonight. Looks like I'll get my tractor driving job back!


We stopped for a few minutes at the third or fourth field. They have a blueberry patch and said we could have some, so I took a few minutes for some farm photography of the tractor, tedder and blueberries.


This is the tedder. It kicks up the hay to help dry it out. The rake is what puts the hay into windrows.

Don't those berries look good! 

I've talked about how we all (including farm folks) need to watch out for equipment on the roads during planting and harvest seasons in the spring and fall, but hay season also brings farm equipment onto the roads. Sometimes, you just can't avoid a main highway. As we were driving between the five or so fields this afternoon, we ended up on the main highway a few times and also spent a bit of time on the back roads. Our area is so pretty! In some parts of the town, there's a dairy wherever you look. We used to call it "cow town."


I talk about hay season, but what exactly goes into making hay? My brother was nice enough to do a guest post for me a few years ago, so here's what he has to say about one of our favorite times of year:

My brother with one of his tractors
What months are considered “hay season”?


This depends on the weather. In some parts of the country, hay season can start in April or May. Around here, it typically starts in June or July. It could be earlier if the weather is good and it’s not raining the entire spring. Hay season usually goes until September.

How do you know when grass hay is ready to be cut?

In our area, good hay-making weather can be hard to come by. If we get a window of good weather, we cut hay. Besides good weather, we also need to know what stage the grass is in. We don’t want it to be over ripe and want to cut it before the grass starts producing seed. Ideally in the early stages of seed development. Feed value decreases when the plant spends more energy on seed production and takes energy away from the stem.



How many cuttings do you typically get per year?

This depends on when we get our first cutting. Some years it may be in May, other years in July. This is significantly impacted by the weather. For the various cuttings, we do a mix between grass silage, hay and pasturing cows on the field.

What are the steps involved in making hay?

There is a lot involved in making hay. First, you have to make sure that the ground is dry enough. Muddy ground won’t make good hay.

Once the ground is ready and the grass hay is at the right stage to be cut, the first thing we do is mow it. We use a large mower that we attach to the tractor. After it is mowed, we touch it as minimally as possible for a little while to reduce color damage.

If there are clumps in the hay, we ted it. This helps dry the hay out, fluffs it up and improves the consistency. Ideally, we would just ted it once the day before we rake it.

Raking the field moves the hay into windrows to prepare it to be baled. If it’s dry enough, we bale hay the same day it is raked. 

Baling hay (small square bales)
We bale small square bales and manually load them onto trailers to take to the barn.


Two of his buddies helping load hay
A full load of hay ready to be unloaded
Just like other plants, grass needs to be fertilized. We spread cow manure on the fields as fertilizer between cuttings. This recycles valuable nutrients and helps the plant and soil thrive. It also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.




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