You know the crop is tall when you can hardly find a cow in it!
This cow left the ‘rugged range’ and found a happy place here in this crop which is now ready to be harvested. Too bad for her she was rounded up and put back where she was supposed to be, her ‘All-you-can-eat-buffet’ didn’t last long. The abundance of rain has made spectacular crops! We will have an awesome amount of feed for all the critters this winter.
On dry years, when the crops are weak, there is the threat of having to buy feed to supplement the herd. This obviously cuts into profits. In comparison, on ample feed years, we have the option to sell feed or custom feed more animals. This results in income for the ranch, and a better bottomline. Again, why ranchers and farmers are always happy when it rains!
Here is a picture of my family in front of our silage crop of oats, peas, triticale, and barley.
I am writing this blog to answer a question posted by a reader. The comment was wondering if our ranch used a moisture tester to indicate whether the hay was ready or not.
On our ranch we do not use a moisture tester. After making hay for fifty years my dad has it down to his own science. He can look at the hay, grab a handful and know whether he can bale or not. He has now passed this expertise onto me. However, this question made us want to research moisture more and lead us to find this article. Here is the link, check it out if you are interested on moisture testing hay.
We were super excited to have a question from a reader, that is our object in creating this blog. We hope for our blog to become more interactive in the future, so if you have any questions, just ask!
Thanks for reading!
The last and final process in making good winter feed is to get it off the field and into a stack yard to help protect it as much as possible from the weather. After the baler has baled all the swathes and the bales are sitting out in the field we now need to remove them from the field and put them in the stack yard. This is important because we now need to get water back on the field as soon as possible because we want the grass mix (timothy, orchard grass and brome grass), alfalfa and oat crops to start re-growing as quickly as possible. This is important because in order for us to have enough feed to feed our animals during the winter months when snow covers the ground and they cannot forage, we need to take 2 cuts from our fields. So we try to get this whole process: swathing, raking, baling, stacking done as quickly as possible.
Last year we started using chicken manure as fertilizer and we have since doubled our hay production. On this field, the above picture,last year we got 60 bales first crop and this year after fertilizing with chicken manure we took off 114. That is pretty exciting for us because if we can produce all the hay we need that means we do not have to buy any and with the price of transportation that saves us a lot of money! The chicken manure works out so well because we are only about 2.5 away from Abbotsford and Chilliwack where there is a lot of poultry production and poultry producers need to get rid of the manure, so we only have to pay for the trucking to get it here, which works out for both parties, the beef producer and the poultry producer.
Baling is the 3rd and almost final step the process of making hay. After the windrows that have been previously raked are deemed dry enough to bale we can start this process. Sometimes depending on weather the baler can follow the rake around the field and bale right after the rake has flipped two windrows into one. Balers are pretty amazing machines they are composed of belts and rollers, which work together to form a bale. The baler picks up the windrows from the field and keeps wrapping the hay around until a bale is formed. Our bales are round and end up being about a thousand pounds, but there are all sorts of different bales big square bales little square bales (you see this more often for horse feed) the size or shape of bale doesn’t matter and the process doesn’t vary the only difference is the type of baler. When running the baler you always have to be paying attention (something that is very difficult for me, as my attention span is quite limited lol), so needless to say I’ve had some mini disasters. Our baler signals when it’s full and a bale can be dumped by a single beep, however that beeping sound is very hard to hear with the noise of the tractor, so you always need to have an eye on the meter that reads how full of hay the baler is. On occasion the baler is signaling me to stop picking up more haying because it has began the tying process, which wraps baler twine around the bale to hold all the hay together, so the bale can be transported, but I miss that signal and keep picking up hay. This is bad because it is hard on the baler, but also you make way bigger bales than the rest and the baler has started the tying process, but hay is still being picked up, so the result is fluffy looking bales because hay is sticking out from every direction under the baler twine. I get quite a hard time when I make my infamous “Big Bales” which are due to me day dreaming when I should be paying more attention. Also, the baling process is where I got the idea for the title of the Haying Series Blogs “Bug Bites and Dirt Tans” because we bale with an open cab tractor and the baler produces a lot of dust, so at the end of the day you are covered in dust and upon first inspection I get quite excited that I got a wicked tan from a day of sitting on the baler, but I’m quite disappointed at night when I shower and my tan disappears!
These picture are from when Dad and I were replacing the belts on the baler to try and ensure a smooth baling season and to help prevent breakdowns and down time. I quite enjoyed myself because I had to crawl inside the baler and wrap belts around the appropriate rollers and in the proper pattern.
The summer before I got married I did water aerobics at my towns’ rec center. After marrying and moving 1200 km, I mentioned to my husband that I missed this form of exercise. He excitedly told me, “I have water aerobics for you! You pick up a 40 foot pipe off the irrigation line, walk 60 feet, hook it up to the new line, then keep doing it until the line is moved.” Although this wasn’t quite what I was looking for in water areobics, I had a hard time arguing that it didn’t have something to do with water and aerobic activity! It was very different from jumping around in a pool listening to music, but it was still extremely good exercise!
We coined the phrase ‘deep’ water areobics because as the crop grows taller the intensity goes up! As you can see by the picture the crop is now 4 1/2 feet tall. Instead of just lifting the pipe up to my waist, I have to lift it up to my shoulders so that I can carry it through. It’s strength and resistance training all in one!
Too bad we couldn’t be like an exercise class and charge people to come and move our pipes for us!!
After the grass is cut and laying in nice neat swaths all over the field the next step in the process of making hay is raking. The time between swathing (once the grass is initially cut) to the time it can be raked and baled varies and depends a lot on weather factors like the amount of sunshine and wind. Both of these factors greatly increase the drying process, so the hay can be raked. In previous years we would only use the rake if the hay got rained on during the drying process because the rake flips the windrow over so air and get at the under side that was touching the ground. However, we have started raking all our fields because we rake 2 windrows into one so there is less time that needs to be spent baling because we are reducing the number of windrows that need to be picked up by the baler in half. Another reason we started doing that is that we figured a rake costs a lot less money than a baler, so it was better to put more hours and wear and tear on the rake than the baler. Raking is a pretty easy job and I have been doing it for a very long time because it was the first job we started on as kids, when we were learning how to operate equipment. This year dad told me I did a perfect job raking because the windrows were the exact same size as the pick up of the baler (where hay goes into the baler to form a bale), so it was easy to bale. That was a huge compliment for me, my dad is a man of few words and few compliments, so that one meant a lot.
This is a picture to show the different windrows, ones that have been raked together (two windrows raked into one) and the original windrows that the swather leaves in the field. The windrows closest to the tractor in this picture have not yet been raked you can see they are a bit flatter and wider and the ones further to the left of the picture have been raked they are fluffier looking.
Swathing is the term we use when talking about cutting down the grass to make hay. When the grass is ready and the forecast is not predicting any rain (mostly we just cross our fingers because its about as accurate) we pull into the field with the swather and start cutting. There is a blade at the bottom of the swather with triangular shaped knives that move back and forth to cut the grass and then it goes through conditioners (bars) that spit out the grass and lay it in a neat windrow behind the swather, so the baler can later pick it up. It is difficult because when you first pull into a field the grass is really high and you can’t see, so you hope that you don’t hit a rock and that you remember where the stumps are or dips are in the field, so you don’t wreck the swather of the knives. The other thing that is tricky about cutting hay is you have to be looking behind you at the swather at all times to make sure that it isn’t plugged up because then the knives are unable to cut the grass and you leaves strips in the field, but at the same time you need to be looking forward, so you stay in a straight line. Needless to say you get a sore neck because it is always craned behind you. Once it is all cut all you can do is pray it doesn’t rain because when the hay is cut it needs to dry, so if it rains when the hay is in the middle of drying it can spoil it and make less nutritious feed.
Erika StrandeOne of our fields before we started swathing. This year we had exceptional crops because we had so much moisture in May and June (which is really unusual for my area). Ideally we wanted to starting swathing 2 weeks prior to when we actually got started because it kept raining and you can’t cut if it’s wet. The down side of being 2 weeks late is that the crop has started heading out,
A picture of the first pass in the field. This is where you just hope that you remembered to pick up all the irrigation pipes and there are no rocks because you really can’t see much!
This is the swather it hooks up behind the tractor to the PTO! This is what cuts the grass and starts the process of turning grass into hay, so we can feed our cows in the winter when the snow is covering the forage!