Friday, June 8, 2012

Make Hay While The Sun Shines

Since moving to Virginia we have learned a lot about the art of hay making.  Our contribution comes in the form of clearing the land and keeping it"mowed" until the trees and blackberries give up and the grass starts to flourish.  We also spray for broad leaf weeds to encourage grass to grow.  Other than that we keep off the fields where we harvest the hay so that we don't smoosh it down.  That's about it.

We know when we are about to get our fields cut, because the equipment appears on the neighbors' fields, which are cut first.  We know there is a two week window or so before it is our turn.  Here is what we learned about "haying" .  You don't just cut they grass and then bale it up.  First you have to be able to judge when the grass is ripe.  The heads develop seeds and you want these to be full ripe and not falling off.  This is where most of the nutrition lies.  The stalks are mostly roughage.  So,  too early is bad and so is too late.

The hay is usually cut one day and left to dry in the filed.  It is then raked into rows with a large contraption that has multiple circular "rakes".  The large square equipment is then pulled over the rows.  It gathers the hay and rolls it into a tight bale.  If it is rained on then it will be wet when you bale it and it will mildew.  Wet hay can also spontaneously combust.  This then burns down the barn and everything in it.  That is something people with horses (and cows) try to avoid.
This is the size of the large bales.

We have a loft in the barn that we used to use to store hay bales.  I was used to 100 pound bales of alfalfa hay that we used in California.  Around here only dairies grow alfalfa, so we had to get used to grass hay.  Most hay is cut by cattle farmers and they roll it into huge compact bales.  They weigh, well, I don't know, a thousand pounds, maybe?  Farmers are killed by having them fall on them all too frequently, so it is a lot.  If you have a large field you can find a farmer that will cut it for shares.  We usually get 1/3 or so of the first cutting and give him all of the second cutting.  We could have half of each, but we don't need it.

Our barn has 6 stalls and we only have two horses.  A few years ago we quit requesting that the farmer that cuts our fields make square bales for us.  It meant he had to bring a square baler just for us and then we had to get the hay into our loft and then get it back down.  We just asked him to make smaller round bales that would fit through the doors of the stalls. We fill two stalls with small bales and put two full size bales in the breezeway of the barn and we always have enough to last 2 horses for the year.


 We used to get half of the cutting, but we ended up with extra hay and would just give it to the farmer the next year.  It did make me a little nervous the first year, though.  I didn't know if we had guessed right and didn't want to go around trying to find hay that someone would sell us for just a few months.  You don't buy hay from the local feed stores.  You get it from a local farmer.

One of the reasons horses don't generally use the huge round bales, is that they have the most sensitive stomachs on the face of the planet.  Do you know someone that is so picky about what they eat and examine it and then always feel sick after eating?  ( Hi, Tara, I love you!)  Well, that is a horse.  Those large bales can mildew.  Now a cow can eat a mildewed hay, as long as it isn't on fire...a little farmer humor.  They have multiple stomachs and can digest pretty much anything.  A horse has one stomach and it has a one way valve.  No hurling up last nights' disgusting dinner for your horse.  So if they eat something that disagrees with them, it can become life threatening.

The first year we had the round bales, we had a few that mildewed.  It was mostly in the center on the bottom where the hay rested on the stall mats, and just the last few bales. They had to be discarded or saved for the farmer at the next haying.  We solved this by purchasing large cement blocks and putting the bales up on them.  This allowed air to circulate and no more mildew.    The bales we handle are a lot lighter, but they are still in the 200 to 300 pound range.  Fortunately, Lee is strong and with my puny help we rock them up on the blocks.  It is a long day of work for us.  We don't want the bales to get rained on...or even "dewed" on, if that is a word.  We don't want to leave them out in the fields to get wet with dew overnight and then possibly mildew.  No sick horses or burning barns thank you very much.  So we have to get them in after they are baled.  This is usually later in the evening, because like most farmers, "our" farmer has a regular full time job he has to do first.

The horses are for sale.  We hope to have them gone this month.  If not, we will be taking them to a stable where a trainer will put some training on them and then sell them with the extra going to her.  This makes deciding how much hay to keep for ourselves kind of tricky.  If they don't sell, we  will probably take them back over the winter and then we will need hay.  If they do sell, we don't want to keep tinder dry hay in the barn for the rest of time!  I think we'll just keep about 8 or 10 bales, just in case, and if we don't need them we will give them away at the second cutting in fall.

I have had a few calls on the horses, so I am hopeful that we can get them good homes.  I really like these horses and they are the last ones I will ever own, so getting them placed well is important to me.  It hurts to ride them, so I am lunging them every day it doesn't rain.  That would be too slippery and I don't want to injure them.  This involves a long, flat line that you attach to the halter and then encourage them to walk, and trot around with you in the center.  I hope to get some pictures tomorrow, if I can convince Lee to be a cameraman. There is a video option on my camera and I want to see if I can download some footage on this blog.  Check back soon!

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