Guest blog by Jeanine Moyer
Baling hay, combining grain and harvesting corn – that’s what our family does to celebrate long weekends in the summer. And we enjoy every minute of it.
It always seems that the weather cooperates on long summer weekends – good for vacationers and farmers. And the long weekends provided an extra day, allowing us to get some of the most important seasonal jobs done on the farm and extra help around the farm.
On our beef farm, we cut, or harvest, hay twice a year while some neighbouring dairy farms often cut three times a season. Hay is a mixture of grasses and alfalfa – providing essential nutrients and roughages (grasses) that are important to the digestive system of cattle. Hay grows like grass; it will grow back after you cut it making it easy for farmers to get multiple cuts of hay in a season.
After consulting the weatherman, looking up the weather online and much debate, the hay is cut using a large mower. Since we prefer ‘dry’ hay, it’s important to have a good stretch of warm, dry weather after the hay is cut to allow it to dry properly, preserving its appealing aroma, green colour and as many nutrients as possible. After a day or two of good weather the hay is ready to be baled. First, each row of hay is raked to ‘fluff’ up the hay, making it easier for the baler to pick it up. On our farm we bale our hay into small square bales, large round bales and sometime large square bales.
Some farmers, often dairy farmers, will cut their hay, bale it, and wrap the bales into plastic. This is often referred to a balage. The grasses and legumes that make up the hay are wrapped into plastic at a very high moister (very wet, just like fresh cut grass) to preserves extra nutrients.
The small square bales of dry hay produced on our farm take the most labour, which is why we often bale hay on a long weekend (many hands make light work). A tractor drives the square baler and a wagon around the field driving over each row of hay. The baler picks up the hay, forms the bale, ties the bale with twine and throws it out into the wagon when it’s done. The hard part is unloading the wagon of bales onto an elevator that moves the bales one at a time up into mow of the barn to be stacked neatly row by row – all by hand. Some bales can weigh as much as 40 pounds and the mows of our barn can reach as high as 40 feet (approximately 30 rows of stacked bales, or 1,600 bales per mow).
Round bales and large square bales of dry hay are less labour intensive but still take plenty of time, a round baler or large square baler have the ability to neatly gather the hay and tie the bale tight with twine. These bales are collected from the field using tractors to lift them onto wagons and are stored in stacks in a shed or under a tarp. A round bale can weigh as much as 850 pounds and a large square bale can weigh between 600-700 pounds.
Baling hay is just one of the important seasonal jobs that have to be done on our farm to make sure our animals have feed to last through the winter months. All the hay that we cut, bale and store will need to last us until the following summer when we will start the process all over again. It may seem like a lot of work, and it certainly is, but we make it fun and at the end of a long day in the hay mow or on the tractor and baler we enjoy each other’s company, a hearty home cooked meal to celebrate the long weekend and a job well done.