How we Make Hay
Have you ever driven along a country road and seen the bales of hay in the fields?
I’ll bet you didn’t think that you were looking at one of
the most significant inventions of the last millennium. When people in
northern climates learned to dry and store grass for winter feeding, the
world changed. People no longer had to hunt wild animals for meat, or
roam nomadically with animals. Animals could be domesticated for milk
and meat. This led to more permanent settlements, and better nutrition.
Permanent settlements led to better social structures, better communication,
and therefore a general increase in knowledge. This humble invention,
dried grass, had a profound impact on the development of Western civilization!
At Pemberton Meadows Natural Beef, we don’t think that we are having a profound impact on western civilization, but we make a lot of hay in a year. Many people don’t know all of what is involved in making hay, so we thought that we would explain the process to our interested consumers.
The first stage is to cut the grass. This must be done when the grass is fully grown, but is not over-mature, so that it produces tough, stocky hay. It must also be cut when you think that you have 3 to 5 days of sunny weather to dry the hay. The grass is cut with a machine called a mower conditioner. This machine cuts the grass and feeds it through rubber rollers that crimp, or condition, the grass. The crimping process breaks the stalk open, allowing the moisture to better evaporate. The mower conditioner drops the grass in windrows.
Sometimes we use a special piece of equipment called a Macerator. This is a “super conditioner”. Whereas a mower conditioner crimps the grass every 4 inches, the Macerator crimps the grass every 1/8 of an inch. This extra step allows the grass to dry faster, and is used when the weather is threatening to close in.
The tedder takes the hay out of windrows, and spreads it flat across the field. Spreading out the grass just allows it to dry faster.
It usually takes 3 to 4 days for the hay to dry properly. The rake is used to rake the hay back into windrows, or to turn over the drying windrows. It is then ready to be picked up by the baler.
When the hay is completely dry and in windrows, it is ready to be baled. Square bales are used to feed in small batches, typically to horses. Round bales are used primarily for cattle. As you can see, the hay is picked up in the front of the baler, and rolled up into a large tube usually 6 feet by 5 feet, and weighting about 1000 pounds. We make about 1000 of these each year.
Hauling and Stacking
Once the hay is baled, it is safe from the weather. Even if it rains, the outer layer of the bale will form a thatch of about 2 inches, which protects the inner part of the bale. The bales are loaded onto wagons and hauled out of the fields to the haystacks, which are located close to the areas where they will be used. The hay is stacked in stacks of about 170 bales each. (There are no needles in our haystacks)
Dried grass is a very simple product which takes great care to make. There are many things that can go wrong, which can lead to coarse or moldy hay. Sometimes if the weather turns, a whole crop can be lost completely. If done properly, the hay will be made at precisely the right time and baled quickly and dry. This ensures a product that has the most nutrition, and is most palatable to the animals. Next time you pass hay bales sitting in a farmer’s field, even if you do not marvel at one of the world’s great inventions, you will know that a lot of care and attention has gone into making that hay.