Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Big Gamble

(post by Jason) There is much truth to the statement that first cut hay is a challenge to make no matter where in the world you're trying to make it. If it's cut when it's supposed to be the grasses are still somewhat immature which means they are actively green and growing aka the moisture content of the plants is very high. On top of this, the ground underneath the hay is also (hopefully) still moist from spring rains. Moist grass plus moist ground means it takes a lot longer to adequately dry first cut hay than it does later on in the summer. The weather itself is also somewhat changeable during first cutting. A stretch of hot summerlike days may be followed by several cool and/or wet days no matter what the weather forecast suggests. Cool and/or wet days don't dry hay very well.

So why all the worry about rain ? First of all, hay that goes through more than one drying cycle is a lot more prone to lose leaves during the tedding, baling and storage process. Leaves are where most of the good nutrients are, so when hay loses leaves the quality goes down really fast. If it's going to rain on my hay I would really prefer that it do so within 24 hours of being cut. This prolongs the drying cycle some but it may not completely ruin the hay if it's only an aberrant shower. Day long rains take everything off the table. If cut hay stays wet enough for long enough it will begin to ferment right in the field which makes it absolutely worthless as a source of feed. Every farmer that makes dry hay has been down that road one too many times.

In spite of the considerable investiture in machinery and manpower it's entirely possible that you may have to go buy hay to replace your stuff that got ruined thanks to the weather. Spending money the first time is plenty for me; I get in a bad mood real fast when things conspire to ensure that I have to spend it twice. Fortunately here in Tennessee sunny and 90 is not an odd weather forecast even in early May. It doesn't take a whole lot of those sorts of days to dry down hay enough to get it baled and in the barn.

In cool wet climates making hay in the spring time is even more of a challenge than it is here; so much so in fact that in Western Europe even horses have to get by on vaccum wrapped silage or haylage. It's a lot easier to wilt hay to 50 % moisture than it is to dry it completely but feeding haylage comes with it's own source of challenges and concerns, especially for horses.

Today was the day we laid our first crop of first cut down here at the farm. Please cross your fingers and hope the hot dry weather we've got in the forecast holds through Saturday.  After Saturday start praying for rain again !

horses on the move; Faune and Winston

George and Gus

Lotus, Romeo, Winston and Faune

Murphy, Wiz, Chili and Johnny hanging out

Lucky, O'Reilly and Snappy

Hemi, Baby, Tony, Grand, Apollo and Trigger

Rampal, Toledo and Kennedy having a lazy afternoon in the woods; note both Rampal and Kennedy have drooping lower lips 

Stormy and Clayton 

Traveller, Calimba, MyLight, Cinnamon and Norman


RuckusButt said...

I can't get over the fact that you are cutting already! Sometimes I forget how different your climate is (though I'm also often surprised by similarities).

I also find it amazing that farmers ever get decent hay in the barn! It seems like too many tumultuous variables for it to work out well. And yet it does, at least sometimes!

Stupid question - does hay that is more green in colour tell you anything about that hay? It seems well and properly dried, is fine in texture (leafy?), and smells clean and wonderful.

lytha said...

i was forced to feed stinking haylage this week for the first time ever because we're out of hay here. my little barn stinks just like a german horse barn - there is nothing like that rotting smell. my husband is travelling around picking up a bale where he can outside our area.

can you tell me why hay is not green in germany? i remember hay being bright green back home. it's not that our grass is less green, you've seen it. ruckus' question made me think of that.

Anonymous said...

Keeping fingers (and toes) crossed for you!

EvenSong said...

I don't have my own hay ground, but I drive one of five balers for my neighbor--he farms 1000 acres of timothy hay. Locally, export timothy is the primary agricultural product, with five different companies here in the valley trucking dozens of semis per day over to Seattle shipyards! Two years ago essentially the entire second cutting was ruined by steady early fall rains--yet the farmers still had to harvest and get rid of it, to make way for the next seasons growth. It's all a HUGE gamble, and I'll keep my fingers crossed for you!
Ruckus and Lytha--nice green color is always a good sign, but understand that different types of hay are different shades of green--timothy is pretty pale compared to alfalfa, and the outside 3 inches of a stack will yellow pretty quickly if exposed to any weather at all. Doesn't mean that the bale is bad, just not as pretty, and a few lost nutrients. The year everything got rained on continuously, bales were literally black...

lytha said...

@evensong, i was wondering about grass hay - timothy and orchard grass in particular. alfalfa has not been a part of my life for a long time, but i did read in the local farmer's newletter that they are making silage out of alfalfa now! crazy - they're raising the protein of alfalfa even higher by shrink wrapping it.

RuckusButt said...

Thanks EvenSong. I just notice the hay my (step) family puts up is nice and green and I haven't seen hay like that at any barn I've been at. I have no idea what type of grass, it's not alfalfa, but I wouldn't call the green either dark or pale. Not that I have a good colour comparison group!