Someone asked me this last week, “Why do you hay?”
To feed our sheep. For the majority of farmers in the north country, haying feeds dairy and beef livestock, particularly through the winter. But, there’s another reason: to keep agricultural land agricultural. Lots of people care about “local” food these days. Local food takes land. Think about what it took to clear and maintain those hay fields and croplands over the years. I hate seeing hay fields growing back up to brush just as I hate seeing old barns caving in.
I’ve spent some part of most every summer for the past 40 years “making hay.” I’ve done loose hay, much as my Amish neighbors still handle hay, raking cut grass into windrows, then using a hand hay fork to create hay cocks (read this excerpt from “The Book of the Farm” by Henry Stephens for more on low-tech hay-making). Hay cocks, or windrows run through a hayloader, are loaded onto a flat hay wagon and then, ideally, lifted by a pulley-operated hay fork running along the ceiling of the hay mow (pronounced to rhyme with cow) and placed in the mow for storage, wagon-load by wagon-load. (By mid-winter, a sharp hay knife, like a machete, is needed to cut chunks of hay out to feed animals.) We never had an operational hay lifter, so lots of handling from field to barn.
Here’s what it looks like for us nowadays.
Most large farmers round bale their hay, or make “haylage”–chopped hay which can be stored in concrete silos and mixed with other feed. Here’s a neighbor’s place this morning: large trucks will carry away chopped haylage.
Everyone has seen round bales on the landscape. These must be moved with a tractor. They may be stored under cover or wrapped in white plastic to diminish spoilage. Here’s a video of round bales being made…watch the runaway bale, it’s cool.
How do you hay? Or, if you have questions about haying, perhaps some farmers out there will help with answers.