Hay making 101

Perhaps you might like to see a bit more of what it takes to harvest dry grass hay? These images were taken over a period of four days; clicking any of them will take you to a carousel view and X in the upper left will bring you back to this post. When you’re done looking at the images be sure to look below the gallery for a brief description of hay making.

The first image above shows the mature crop, standing, on Thursday morning. It rained last Tuesday though we didn’t put the field down on Wednesday to allow the crop and the ground beneath it time to dry. The second photo shows the field being mowed, on Thursday afternoon, with a haybine. This implement cuts the crop in a seven foot swath and then transports it, as a continuous stream, through a set of hard rubber rollers. This crimps the hay to allow air into and moisture out of the individual blades of grass – crimping allows for more efficient drying of the crop. Although the haybine leaves the grass in rows, these lay flat to the ground which doesn’t allow for good air circulation. The third photo shows a rake being drawn over the long rows on Friday. The rake gently rotates the row and fluffs up the hay – this increases air circulation through what is now called the windrow. Depending on the drying conditions a field of hay may have to be raked once, twice, or even three times before it can be harvested. Determining when your crop is ready to be baled can be tricky. If the crop is too dry the grass can become brittle and crumbly. If the crop is too wet one runs the risk of bale heating, and this can be dangerous indeed. Bale heating occurs when microbes within the bale thrive in residual moisture. Microbial activity generates heat and when lots of wet bales are stacked closely together they can generate enough heat to start a fire. If those bales happen to be inside your barn … well, you can figure out what happens next. The hay is dry when the blades are a paler green (than when the grass was standing), the windrows fluff in the breeze, and when you walk on it it crunches with a pleasing sound that says dry … it’s tough to describe, but one who knows hay knows when it’s dry. In the old days hay used to be stored loose in the barn, but this took up lots of space. Nowadays we form the dried hay into bales – either square (in section) or round, and these require different sorts of equipment. Square bales weigh 50 – 70 pounds and can be carried about. Round bales are much larger, weigh nearly 1000 pounds, and can only be moved with the aid of a tractor. The type of bale one makes depends upon the type of equipment available and what you happen to be feeding. Sheep, goats, and horses do well with square bales while cows do best with round bales. Our baler is a vintage Vermeer 605C from the mid 1970s – it makes bales alright but, boy, has it got personality. Round baling is achieved by the concurrence of two actions. First, a series of long rubber belts rotate to form the bale chamber… at the same time a take up mechanism feeds the windrow into this rapidly rotating chamber. The combined actions of the rotating bale chamber and the constant supply of hay ultimately form the bale. Our crop was ready to bale on Saturday afternoon. The picture shows a completed bale  being ejected from the chamber. Hay making can be difficult – for a number of varied reasons – but there is no better feeling than having it done. The penultimate image shows the relief of being finished with this year’s first cut hay harvest! The final image shows the clean field after removal of the bales. Now that the first cut crop is in the barn this same field will regrow a second cut crop which will be mowed, raked, and baled sometime in August. Thanks for reading.

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