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.

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