’tis time to talk about hay

Y’all ok with doin’ a little farming this week?

What if I show you this sweet girl?

abbyondozer

That’s what I thought.

She does not understand what all the fuss is about. It’s hot here. Shirts are optional, apparently.

NOW. Today we’re gonna learn a little bit about HAY.

hay  /hā/

noun: grass that has been mown and dried for use as fodder

Hay is grass. Dried grass cut and then baled together. Our hay is a mixture of alfalfa, brome, and timothy grass… plus a little clover thrown in there. It all depends on the farmer’s field.

bobcat

We do not grow our own hay here at TexasNorth. We don’t have our own equipment to cut and bale yet. Maybe some day. For now, we buy our hay from friends, neighbors, and folks on Craig’s List.

Seriously.

Our usual hay guy has less available this year… and when your usual hay guy has less available you go to Craig’s List and see if there’s anyone near you with good stuff. We look for miles to travel, quality of hay, size of bale, and price. Our bales are about 6-feet in diameter. This year, six-foot bales cost about $60 a piece and weigh about 980# each.

Farmers cut and bale their fields up to four times a summer, depending on how well the grass grows back each time. The 1st cutting is the lowest grade, nutritionally, and we use that for our older girls who are not nursing or pregnant. The grass that grows up after the first cutting, called “2nd cutting,” is richer in nutrients and will help the calves and heifers we buy it for to grow steady and strong. Those little gals and guys double in size their first year, so it’s important that the best quality grass go to them.

22bales

We use a Dodge truck and a big, red trailer to haul the hay. Our trailer can hold up to 22 bales of hay on each trip, but that’s really pushing it. Obviously it takes a little bit of planning and time to get all the hay you need in the right place. We use a little bobcat fitted with a spear on the end to pick up and move the hay.

But what if you find it at a great price and don’t have the room in the barn to store all your inventory? Ah. Yes. This is us. Well, when that happens you have to call the hay-wrapper-guy. For $8 a bale, he’ll come out and wrap the hay while you load the bales on. It’s a really cool machine… Gus cried when it left. You just feed the bales onto the trailer and it wraps over and under them, allowing them to be stored out in the open indefinitely. When you need one, you just take a box cutter and rip the plastic off the last one in line. You must, must, must protect your hay from rain and snow. If they sit out because there’s no room under a shelter, you lose whatever gets soaked, or about 6-inches of grass. No good. Thus, WRAPPING.

hay2

hay1

So, in a good year, our cows will feed on live, growing grass out in the pasture from April-ish to October. Once the grass is gone or the snow comes, you have to switch to hay. We are fortunate in Michigan to have really great grass and rain. We can have about one cow per acre. Other states rely on hay year-round to feed their stock. In Texas, for instance, the grass ratio is way higher: you need at least 10 acres per animal. Then there are crazy unpredictables like the weather. Last year, there was a huge drought and hay was nowhere to be found. Our neighbors go theirs from Kentucky. 6-foot bales were over $100 a piece, when you could find them and we starting putting out hay in May because the pasture grass was already gone.

Farming is hard. Not because the tasks are necessarily hard- no. It’s simple work that requires remarkable effort and an incredible faith. When you meet a farmer… not a hobby farmer like us, but a raise your family by the sweat of the land farmer, you have met a man who can read the clouds, who sings in church with dirty fingernails, and who remembers every turn and bump of his land. Farmers are rewarded by seeing results… babies born, families fed, seeds blooming into crop. They’re amazing, farmers. I just can’t get enough of them. Really, I can’t.

But back to HAY. Right. You’re wondering how much hay we need on our little hobby farm… and that’s a great question. This is a good year- the opposite of last year. The grass is growing fast and beautiful. Farmers are already on their 2nd cutting, and many will get 4 out of this year. Prices are down and most folks have a good supply to sell.

From October to April, our little farm will need 64 bales to feed

  • 11 mamma cows
  • 2 heifers (girls in their first year)
  • 10 calves
  • 6 steers

We still need 50 bales of 2nd cutting specifically for the calves and heifers. That’ll come a bit later. We’ve got all we can handle for now!

Before we go, here’s some live action of the the hay ‘chine (as Gus calls it):

What’s a 6-foot, 1st cutting bale cost near you? Maybe we need to come for a visit 🙂

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About texasnorth

TexasNorth is a little farm in Western Michigan. It's home to 5 chickens, 25 longhorn cattle, a coonhound (Banjo), 1 barn cat, a husband, and 3 ridiculously funny children. The mom of this zoo has been known to mow the lawn in a skirt and roast marshmallows after dark. View all posts by texasnorth

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