Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hay Making Experiment!

A few times each year, we mow a couple of fields of pasture grass, with very few weeds, in Buckingham Country. I would like to mow less often and keep the hay. On second cuttings, we could get straw, with fewer seeds and more potential as garden mulch. If we start keeping a few goats next  year, we'd want hay. What's the difference between hay and straw? Read all you would EVER want to know, right here.

The inputs into our food matter, and when we can we grow our own food or buy organic. For animals we feel the same way. I am confident that our grass here and in Buckingham is free of pesticide and herbicides, so the fields we mow can provide good fodder or animals or mulch for our rows of plants.

Sounds great until one prices out a baler and tedder. I don't own a sickle mower for the tractor but the other implements can set one back $20,000 new. Thus I'm not likely to go that route for might amount to 100 or so bales annually (not that we currently use more than 20). Luckily, not all of the world has turned to massively expensive techniques. This page from Ethopia, for small-scale herding operations, shows some techniques I plan to adopt.

While I think a hay tedder for the tractor may be a reasonable investment, so I can windrow the hay easily after cutting with the rotary mower on the tractor, a baler is big money. I'd rather pay a farm-hand a couple hundred dollars a year to help me hand-bale the hay. Stacking would we really fun, if the fields were near where I have gardens and animals. Scratch that: it's 50+ miles from field to farm-site.

My research on this turned up the Rev. J.D. Hooker's article about how to build a baler-box. It's very similar to the box shown on the Ethiopian page. It was a snap to make. I only needed a few screws and some 3/4 plywood. I added L brackets around each side since I'd be standing IN the box, stomping.

We cut and transported the grass to dry at home, but I'd prefer to windrow the hay and bale it at the site.  I  turned the hay once and checked for moisture. If it rots or gets moldy, it will go out for mulch or be spread in the chicken run.

My experiment produced three 2'x2'x18" bales out of 3/4 load of hay from the pickup's bed. With its 8' bed, the truck will hold 16 bales. I baled three in 15 minutes, so when I next mow a few acres, I think I'll take a farm-hand and get 50 or so bales done. We can stack and cover the ones we don't trasport with a tarp, though a farm wagon for moving our tractor will one day double for moving bales.

I've ordered a European-Style hay rake and will now hand-scythe some rye-grass right here at home to see how well it does. I will get a few more bales locally before practicing on the big field at Buckingham.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Farm Auction

Yesterday we attended our second-ever agricultural auction. I'd been discouraged the first time, seeing a post-hole digger soar past my $300 maximum in about 3 bids. The irony was that I found an even nicer used one for $500, including extra auger bits, a few weeks later at an equipment dealer in the mountains.

If one is beginning to farm casually or professionally, however, there's no better place to learn the prices of used equipment.

At auction, tractors can be had for great prices. Yesterday a really nice John Deere 850 with just over 1800 hours on it went for $4100, a real steal. Similar machines bring $6000. I don't regret buying a new tractor when we began our rural adventure, but that payment to Mr. Deere reminds me, every month, of how much I have learned since then. I can easily maintain equipment now and know what will run well, as opposed to what merely looks good, in farm equipment.

This tractor looks great, doesn't it?

If you ever consider bidding on such machinery, bring along someone experienced with tractors and implements. This machine had a hydraulic leak from the left rear axle. An auction company employee claimed he'd overfilled the reservoir and parked on a slanted surface. I'm not so sure; he'd have to vastly overfill it because the incline was really slight.

The tractor was hurriedly and recently painted: gas dripping form the carb, which can cause a fire, had worn off the new paint under a drip. From here I can see that gas-leak. I don't think they rebuilt the gravity-fed fuel system, a $100 job within reach of a skilled amateur. Doing it right can save you from a fiery death; I only learned this when rebuilding the fuel system on my old John Deere M.  Replacing the fuel lines and rebuilding a one-barrel carburetor are simple, unlike fixing hydraulics or axles; those require a tear-down and new seals. These are repairs costing many hundreds of dollars.

Though the tractors did not tempt me, this time I did bid! I tried my hand at snagging a stack of old-school milk crates, not the cheap-ass ones from Staples but from actual dairies. I have about 10 but you can never have enough! At $15 I dropped out, as I did for a lot of galvanized carriage bolts (one can simply not have enough fasteners at such prices).

It was fun to bid. The day got too hot to stay around for a PTO-attachment, a nice tiller I will need when I expand my garden to field-grown crops. I bet it went for around $300,  a real bargain.  Maybe next time. In any case, the crowd made the day: salt-of-the-earth types who all know each other and that one never sees in town or even in numbers at a country store.