The trials of making square bale hay are underway. It may have been beautiful sunshine in Cabot yesterday, but that hasn’t been true for many days this spring. Farmers who produce baled hay like Under Orion Farm does are becoming few and far between. . . and with the challenges of drying hay in springs like this one, it’s not surprising.
Most dairy and beef farmers today put up their feed in large round bales, bunker silos, or long plastic wrapped tubes. This feed only needs to be 50% dry. The moisture in the grass, and the airtight storage, leads to fermentation which aids in grass digestion and palatability for cattle. It is possible to mow, bale and wrap the hay in a single day, so you don’t need the stretches of dry weather that square bales require. It also takes less labor to produce; most of the work can be done from the tractor, without the need of handling square bales.
Small scale bovine farmers and horse owners generally prefer dry square baled hay for their winter feeding needs. Square bales can be fed without special equipment (round bales weigh around 800 lb). And, while cows digest the fermented hay best, horses digest dry hay much better than fermented round bales.
Baled dry hay needs two perfect weather days (sun, low humidity, and wind) or three “pretty good” days to put up. The majority of my hay is square bales. I first choose a field for dryness, crop maturity, and size. If I have help lined up and a good forecast I mow a large area (500-800 bales worth). If I do not have the help and the weather outlook is poor (this entire year so far) I will mow less.
My mower not only cuts the hay, but also conditions (crushes) the stems, which promotes drying, and leaves it in long windrows. Then the grass needs to be spread out evenly for maximum drying. This work is done with a tedder, a series of disks, each with long arms
extending off from it. At the end of the arm is a spring tooth that flicks and turns over the grass. Tedding needs to be repeated until the hay is dry, generally two or three times. The grass then needs to be put back into a windrow for baling. The baler picks up the wind-rowed hay, compacts it, ties it up (the knotter is fascinating – I have no idea how it works, I clean and grease it religiously so I never have to figure out how to fix it), and kicks the freshly made bale into a wagon. Each wagon holds around 100, 40 – 45 lb bales.
Great strides in technology and efficiency have been made since I was helping my father hay as a kid, but making square bales is still a weather dependent, labor intensive, activity. Weather dominates life here on the farm, all plans are made around it. So in this very rainy spring we are just trying to string together those three dry days. In the meantime, think about getting your organic hay from Under Orion Farm! Prices are listed on our website’s Farm Products page.
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