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Intro to Country Living
Some of my experiences living in the country.

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Hay Farming
Hay farming process.

Step 1- Tilling
Working the soil.

Step 2 - Planting
Planting the seed.

Step 3 - Irrigation
Watering the crop.

Step 4 - Weed Control
Dealing with weeds.

Step 5 - Fertilizing
Fertilizing the soil.

Step 6 - Cutting
Cutting the hay.

Step 7 - Baling
Baling up the hay.

Step 8 - Stacking
Stacking the hay bales.

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Baling Hay - Gathering the Loose Hay and Making Bales

Once the cut hay has dried sufficiently, baling is the next step in the hay making process.  Waiting for the hay to dry to the correct moisture level is critical to the quality and long term storage ability of the hay.  Hay that is baled too wet is trouble, trouble, trouble!  The high moisture content can lead to spoilage.  The bacteria and fungus spores that naturally occur in all hay will go crazy in high moisture conditions.  The result can be moldy, rotten hay that is worthless.  Even worse, if the hay is wet enough, it can lead to a barn or storage shed burning down!  You see, if the hay is too wet, then the bacteria can go beserk inside the confines of the bale.  As the bacteria reacts within the wet, organic material, then it produces heat.  It can get so hot that the bales can spontaneously combust.  You wouldn't naturally think of wet hay as a fire risk.  It would seem that dry hay would be at a greater risk of burning, but the reality is that apart from arson, a haystack fire can often be caused by hay that was baled with too much moisture.  

Baling Hay 

A Sea of Bales - Baling Orchard Grass Hay My First Year Farming

What is the right moisture content?  For grass hay, typically the drier the better.  You probably don't want to get above around 13-14% moisture for grass hay.  I've heard it said that single digit moisture levels are good if you can get it that dry.  Less moisture is better for grass hay.  The reason is that blades of grass can fit together tightly inside a bale of hay.  There is very little room for the bale to "breathe" and it's in this absence of oxygen that spoilage and bale heating can occur more easily.  For alfalfa hay, 17-18% is a good maximum moisture level.  Sure, farmers sometimes push it farther up into the 20% range, but then you are getting into potentially risky territory.  Alfalfa hay bales usually breathe better than grass hay, because the stems don't all lay flat against each other as compactly.  The crisscross pattern of stems in an alfalfa bale are not as compacted together as much, and it allows the alfalfa to be baled at higher moisture levels.  In the case of alfalfa hay, drier is not better.  If you bale alfalfa hay too dry, then the nutritious leaves will be shattered off and fall to the ground.  You'll end up with a bale of dry sticks with very little nutritional value.  It's what I call junk hay!  No one wants to be a bale of dry stems and the animals don't want to eat it either (unless they are starving).  The key to making good alfalfa hay is to get the cut hay to dry completely (so that you can crack the stems easily), and then waiting for the right dew conditions to lightly moisten the leaves again so they can survive the baling process.  So, you want to ensure that the alfalfa is dry and that the stem moisture is low enough, but then you need a little bit of moisture added back in the form of night time dew so that the leaves are softened again.  Getting the correct balance can be trickier than you might think.  Too much moisture and you risk spoilage and fire.  Not enough moisture and the leaves are shattered and you are left with a bunch of worthless, dry stems.  So, you see that proper drying and baling at the right time are key aspects of successful hay farming! 

Freeman 200T Hay Baler

Freeman 200T Hay Baler with Hydraulic PTO Drive

In years past, dried hay was loaded on wagons and just piled up loosely.  This took a lot of space and obviously was not ideal in many ways.  Now a days, a baler is used to compress the hay into tight bales which are a much more efficient way to transport and store hay.  The hay baler picks up the loose hay in the field and then forms it into a compact bale.  There are different types of balers that make various sizes and shapes of bales.  There are big balers that can make 1/2 ton and even 1 ton rectangular bales.  There are round balers that make big round bales that can be over 1000 lbs.  In my case, I use a Freeman baler that makes small rectangular bales that are typically in the 90-100 lb range.  In some parts of the country, people make bales that are 60-70 lbs.  On my Freeman baler, there are pickup fingers that lift the loose hay off the ground as I pull the baler with my tractor.  This loose hay is then feed it into the baler.  A fork-like assembly that grabs the hay and stuffs it into the bale chamber.  It is there that a large plunger hammers each bunch of hay into another layer that adds to the length of the bale.  There are big "needles" that place twine around the bales, and special mechanisms called knotters that tie the knot on the strings of the bales.  On small rectangular balers, 2 tie (2 strings per bale) is common and sometimes 3 tie bales are made.  As the bales are formed, they drop out behind the baler as you move forward.  I find that hay baling can be one of the trickiest parts of making good hay because it can be hard to get the right amount of dew.  Once the conditions are just right, you have to jump on the tractor and bale as fast as you can before conditions change again.  Never a dull moment!