Summer is prime time for cutting hay. As they say, “Make hay while the sun shines.” It sounds easy enough, but there’s actually a lot involved. And the weather doesn’t always cooperate.
Getting enough hay to last your herd through the winter months is important. We let our cows graze our 30 acres during the spring and summer, and then start feeding hay after the first freeze. However, some people feed hay year-round if they don’t have enough good grass to provide for their herd.
We are blessed to have hay provided by my husband’s parents. They cut hay from several hundred acres of various fields in our area, including their own pastures and ours.
Most of our local grass is either bahia or bermuda. A good cutting of bermuda grass will yield about three bales an acre, and we’re talking 5’ by 6’ round bales that weigh about 1,500 lbs.
My father-in-law, who goes by “Opa,” tries to cut his hay fields every 30 days. He doesn’t irrigate though, so the amount of rainfall comes into play. You want enough rain for the grass to grow, but not so much that it floods the fields or makes cutting the grass impossible. It’s good to have a 3-4 day window of no rain in the forecast before deciding to cut hay. That usually isn’t a problem during the summer. We usually have the opposite problem. There isn’t enough rain to make the grass grow well. With the right balance of weather, Opa can get four cuttings a year off his hay fields. It’s a big job, and he has helpers.
Opa’s biggest helper is named John. John Deere, that is. He uses his tractors for every step of the process. First, a tractor pulls a mower to cut the field. After the grass is dry enough, it is raked into windrows. At that point, a baler collects the piles and turns them into round bales. Once the bales are rolled, a tractor is used to put them on a trailer and cart them off to the hay barn.
How long the cut grass has to sit in the field before it is raked and baled is contingent upon the temperature, humidity, wind, and how heavy it is. All those factors determine how fast it will dry. Sometimes before raking the hay into windrows, a tedder is used. A tedder or “fluffer” basically throws the cut grass up in the air to help dry it and speed up the hay-making process.
Before baling, the moisture level of the cut grass should be somewhere between 10-15 percent, unless you are doing baleage. Baleage is hay that is rolled at 40-60 percent moisture. It’s hay that becomes fermented. It’s actually more nutritious and easier to digest, plus the cows love eating it. Opa put up some baleage early in the year. He prefers it to sit for at least 60 days to properly ferment before feeding it to the cows.
Usually, hay bales are wrapped in twine or netting. Baleage is wrapped in plastic. Opa prefers netting on dry bales, because it’s faster and easier for the baler to wrap with than twine.
My husband helps every summer during hay season. I’ve helped in years past, too, before having little ones at home to watch. It’s not super exciting to sit in a tractor for hours driving round and round while the mower or rake does its job, but it is an important part of keeping livestock.