Backyard Hay Too 



Demand for new and used machinery for grain farming is down alarmingly because of the uncertainty in the corn and bean market, but haying equipment is on the upswing. The experts say this demand is because beef prices are climbing but that means to me that livestock farming needs hay more than it does corn . The more modern farming has tried to eschew hay rather than chew it, the more hay has proven its value.

Hay is our number three crop (after corn and soybeans), nothing to sneeze at unless you have hay fever. If common sense ever returns to grain farming, many of the acres planted to corn and beans in recent years will go back to pasture and hay because steep hills and dry plains are too erosive for annual cultivation. All hay needs to become our number one crop is more ways to get it in the barn quicker without rain. The latest goal is to  make “hay in a day.” After mowing, conditioning, and windrowing, the hay is wrapped in plastic in big round bales still quite wet— around 50% moisture. It will then keep satisfactorily. I’ve not made hay myself this way and am a little leery. But it does sort of get rid of the problem of heavy lifting in haymaking because it’s all done by machines not muscles and dairy farmers, or rather their cows, love it.

Advances in smaller scale haymaking make it easier to get hay in the barn without rain too. A big help now is meteorology. We cuss the weather people, but they get it right most of the time. Haymakers can scrutinize those weather maps as closely as the meteorologists do, and most of the time can tell when a three day window of fair weather is going to open up. Then with modern equipment, fifteen acres of hay can be put away easily enough in that three day stretch.

Getting hay to dry fast, but not too dry, is really an art. The best way is to think herb drying. Cut off a fist full of grass and clover manually, tie it into a swatch and hang it on a clothesline in a dark, dry room with a fan for circulating air. Yeah. How many thousands of fistfuls would it take to overwinter even one cow that way? But if you had that kind of quality clover hay, that’s all your cows would need for feed. As I have bragged here before, I had some nearly perfect alfalfa hay once and fed it to our milk cows without any grain at all. No problems.

The more you can mimic herb drying out in the field, the better. Mow in the morning after the dew is off. The latest “discovery” in haymaking is that hay cut with an old sickle bar mower that falls flat in a thin layer will dry faster than with today’s monster mowers and conditioners that tend to bunch the swathed hay. Now there are new machines to spread the swath back out again. Cha-king $$$, cha-king $$$. With the new bigger swaths, tedding has become almost necessary for faster drying. I have made tons and tons (literally) of hay without ever using a tedder. I argue that getting hay into a windrow where much of it dries out of direct sunlight makes better hay with less leaf shattering. Even raking requires great timeliness to keep leaves from shattering. Do it when the hay is still not quite dry. Big fat expensive windrows dry slower than little skinny cheap ones.

Now haymakers have gadgets that tell you the moisture content of the hay. More cha- king, cha-king. I know when hay is ready by the feel of it but I do not know how to translate that feel into words. Problem is, if storm clouds are hovering on the horizon, you start baling even if the hay is not quite ready. There are liquids you can spray on the bales if it is not dry to keep it from molding in the bale, but that’s cha-king, cha-king too.

There are many part time farmers making hay these days and for them taking time off from their off-farm job when hay needs to be cut NOW is a problem. They often rely on a custom baler which also can be a problem when hay needs baling NOW. If you don’t want to buy a baler, it is still practical to stack hay in the field like the one pictured with this website (and the Monet above), if you need only smaller amounts. Doing it with the hand fork is not much harder than bucking bales.

Here’s another far out idea for the backyard farm. Maintain a lawn with lots of white clover in it and let it grow a couple inches taller than you normally would before mowing. Let it dry on the lawn after mowing until next day, pile it loosely under cover, and feed it to your backyard chickens all winter. Throw a handful of wheat in the coop every day per every dozen chickens. I’ve overwintered my hens on good alfalfa hay that way, so why not high quality lawn clover hay?


I enjoyed this post. Although it has been a long time since I heard an old fashioned cash register, I think the sound effect you’re going for is “ka-ching” or perhaps “cha-ching” rather than “cha-king.”

I sure appreciated this post of Gene’s and all the comments that went with it. Thank you for all the shared thoughts, everyone!

Be cautious or at least knowledgable when feeding lawn grass- Especially with bred horses. Here in Grass Seed growing country we differentiate between Turf types and Forage types. Some Turf types have an Endophyte fungus living in them that amongst other things lends a deeper green to the plant along with drought tolerance and pest resistance. In extreme cases high endophyte hay can cause such circulatory issues that northern climate cattle have lost ears etc. unless you have a huge lawn of high endophyte grass and it is the sole ration for your critters you are likely just fine. I occasionally toss some to the Llamas and cow and chickens, but mostly the clippings here are used as a never ending source of garden mulch.

In theory I want to maintain a clover free yard as little bare feet and bees are not a good match…. But reality is when our summer drought nectar dearth is upon us, yeah I let portions of the yard get taller to provide bee forage…..
Thanks for a Nice article on small scale haying!

Consider this. Why not stack functions and use animals to harvest your hay and save the manual or mechanical process of putting hay up? When it comes to soil health, multiple NRCS soil health conservationists and holistic management experts confirm that haying your land is “almost as bad” as tillage row cropping. Before anyone throws their field stones at me, I bring this up because use of livestock to intensively graze the pastures to me seems a much better way to cut and process the hay and convert it to protein more efficiently. And those in the northern climes who believe they must put up their hay for winter feeding … well, I point you to one Gabe Brown in Bismark, North Dakota, who does not bring in his livestock to feed in the winter. In fact, he doesn’t even bring in his cows to calve. The Brown’s cattle remain out in fields year round enjoying cover crop forage on no-till fields and on well-managed pastures. If you’d like to learn more about what Gabe Brown is doing (and out producing his neighbors), check out this video:

    I have put up hay loose, in tripods, with a small square bailer (JT 24T) and now with a neighbors round baler. The reason is that over the years I have been “rode hard and put up wet” too many times (a horse reference for those who wonder) and the bod just don’t like to work like it used too.
    All of the methods worked and were variously successful and expensive/cheap.
    I also have fantasized for years about “Getting the hay out” and many of the grassfed gurus suggest. Unfortunately I have chosen to live in God’s country (NW Lower Michigan) where we have 11 months of snow and 1 month of damn poor sledding.
    With Lake Michigan next door we have too much snow to make year round pasturing practical (at least I can’t figure it out and don’t know of anyone who has). That said if you are in a favorable climate year round pasturing seems like a smart idea. I’d just move somewhere else but I do live in God’s country so I guess I will just have to put up with such minor inconveniences. Thanks Gene and all for your insight and comments.

When i was making hay , the boss told me a few tricks. One is that hay cut before noon is like having two days drying in one. That cut after noon takes a day longer to dry. I cut mine with an old allis pitman sickle mower then went back thru the fielld and spread the bunch that bunched up on the divider at the far end of the sickle bar away from the tractor and any other bunches that occured. I bought an old allis hayrake that teds or rakes but havnt had a chance to use it., Then baled it with a tempermental old JD 14 T baler, that would let me know it was 7 pm at night by starting to pop shear bolts. I also stacked the small squares on the edge , cut side down so moisture would be wicked up thru the stack. We also put 4 bales on the right hand front side of the wagon . The weight held the front end down so we could stack the later bales without them getting shook off the wagon because of the speed and bumpy field..THe hay i cut with a scythe and put in the shed with a pitchfork seemed dusty to me even though it was just grass hay and plenty dry.One mistake i made was raking the hay too soon and that would keep it from drying !! Usually just rake it the day you bale it if its dry enough or maybe the day before.

I’ve never used a tedder either. But I’ve frequently worried about whether the hay was too wet when I put in the barn.

I put all those worries behind me when I sold our hay equipment this year. From now on I’m going to buy what little hay we use. I don’t like giving up the control, but I’d prefer to bring in nutrients off of someone else’s farm and I’m glad I no longer have to worry about expensive repairs to a baler. I calculate that it will take me ten years before the baler would have paid for itself and that’s only if it didn’t break down in the meantime.

I don’t recommend it for everyone, but for us the right move was to set stock rates and rotation patterns to greatly reduce hay usage, then to buy what we need from neighboring farms.

Jammmmes M. Thomas July 17, 2015 at 12:55 pm

I read Gene’s previous article about using a bush hog mower to make clover and bluegrass hay. One myone acre every bite counts nasmuch as even though alfalfa grows in abundance around here it also sells for in Gene’s words: ” Cha Ching” the bluegrass/ ryegrass/ white clover common to most northern lawns works really well. I’ve let it grow tall then cut it with a scythe just before (hopefully) seed heads form. The scythe almost automatically forms windrows. Our climate (90-100+) right now dries greenery into hay quickly. Usually I roll the windrows with a pitchfork a few times until the hay is dry enough to put in the barn loft where, if stacked loosely, it will finish drying without bleaching from too much sunlight and any shattered leaves are captured on the barn floor. I use a fork and wheelbarrow to pile the loose hay into a plastic tarp with a rope through all the border grommet holes. I then cinch up the rope so the hay pile looks like a big purse bag of marbles,then hoist it into the barn with a block and tackle. It works great without tering my damaged body apart but still giving me a good workout.
One time a certain uniformed relative drove a vehicle across the tall hay patch just as it was ready to cut, which effectively caused what is called in grain agriculture, lodging. This laying down of the grass makes it really hard to cut with a scythe. I had just purchased a new Troybilt lawn mower so I used the side discharge attachment to mow this in a circular pattern starting from the center, then working outward. The mower, surprisingly to me, made short work of the forage, which if it was still standing would be very laborious to mow with most power rotary mowers. The forage was chopped into small pieces about 2 1//2 -3″ but laid flat and well exposed to the sun. After a couple of hours of sun exposure we rolled it into small windrows as Gene described Then after another couple of hours we rolled the windrows so the bottoms of the windrows were the new tops. Surprisingly the hay was dry enough by the end of the day to put into the barn.The critters sure gobbled it up when I placed it in the feeder that winter and there was very little not eaten.

I keep thinking in accordance to Gene’s description of the value of hay, how much forage, fertility and erosion control could be provided if the lawn mowers of America were instead viewed as forage cutters as well as landscape maintenance tools, how much grass-fed beef ,lamb, goat, chicken, goose etc could be produced from American lawns, parks and golf courses?

The best investment lve made recently was buying a good european scythe.Most summer mornings while the dew is on, it cuts easest when wet, I spend a half hour cutting tall stands off whatever around my homestead.Its suprisingly easy, easier than pushing a lawn mower, and when growth is heavy its faster too. I use the resulting material as animal feed or as mulch in my CSA garden.

I searched for handmade haybaler and there were a few options. Here’s one..

Nice of you to put the Monet from the Art Institute of Chicago at the top of the article. I always thought it was a hay stack, but 2 weeks ago I looked at the 4 paintings the A.I. has on display and they are entitled “Wheat stack”. No matter. They are still some of the most beautiful paintings ever made.

    Chris N. Monet also painted wheat stacks or grain stacks. The story goes that he painted the first stack just because he was intrigued by how sunlight played off it through the seasons. Much to his surprise, the public went crazy over the painting and he ended up doing some 40 of them to fill the demand. My theory is that stacks of hay have a beauty that appeals to humans because they unconsciously realize that dry forage keeps farm animals alive overwinter and so themselves, then and now. BeeHappee. I LOVE yours. My grandfather called little piles or shocks of hay (he did it too and so have I) hay “doodles.” We didn’t use wood frames but that would be better. Gene Logsdon

Your observations are always sensible and refreshing…. the accounting of your solutions to use the land wisely makes for quite interesting reading. Stay well, Gene and Carol.

My big herd of 8 cattle means I have pretty low investment in haying machinery. A $1200 round baler from an auction, a well used 9 foot haybine for $1500 and I’m all set. The old wheel rake has been on the farm 40+ years and still more than adequate to throw two swaths into one for more efficient baling. Sure you can put up hay by hand with a pitchfork, loose or small squares, but that is a young man’s work. When you get an old arthritic back you don’t want to do much work with a shovel or fork or you will regret it. Been there and done that.

I cut all my hay with a New Holland 456 trailer type sickle bar mower,have a 404 NH hay conditioner but rarely use it.This time of year if the temperature is in the 90’s and the wind is blowing some I can cut one day and bale the next as a few wet spots in hay baled with a large round baler is no big problem.For small scale hay making there are several companies that make small walk behind sickle mowers that’ll cut the hay just like the big ones.In my opinion hay that is cut with a sickle bar mower is the best quality hay you can get,chopping and tedding hay lowers the quality every time its handled (beat).The absolutely best quality is hay I bale is with an old Allis Chalmers small round baler it handles the hay lightly and doesn’t beat the leaves off.

Very interesting information, good point on clover chicken feed, and never heard of “hay in a day.” Just sounds too good to be true, it must be too good to be true. Three day rain-free window just ain’t happening this summer. 🙂
We used to stack hay in Lithuania in the piles as Monet above, but also into these wooden frames for more ventilation

Then you may need to unstack and spread and turn it over again, until dry and ready for the barn, all done with pitchfork and rake.
Funny how we try to save time (e.g. cutting with machines instead of scythe) and then need to do extra work, spread the hay back out. . .

I would love to see more ideas on how to make hay on a smaller scale with simpler tools. I’ve got acres of hay fields, but must rely on a neighbor to bale it. With this year’s rain, that has yet to happen. I mow a large yard whenever the weather allows. Any ideas on how to gather and store yard cut grass safely for winter feeding?

Due to complex arrangements too tedious to explain, my rams are penned up in the chicken yard at the moment. They cleaned off all the weeds in there in about a week, and now I’m bagging my lawn clippings and wheel-barrowing my garden weeds for them. So, while it isn’t exactly lawn clover hay it is very much the same idea. So far they seem quite pleased.

What a great way to feed chickens! I’m always looking for ways to limit the GMO feed they get. As always, I love checking in with you on Wednesdays.

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