STEP 8 - STACKING
Intro to Country Living
Step 1- Tilling
Step 2 - Planting
Step 3 - Irrigation
Step 4 - Weed Control
Step 5 - Fertilizing
Step 6 - Cutting
Step 7 - Baling
Step 8 - Stacking
Country Site Map
Main Site Map
Hay Stacking - Getting the Bales Out of the Field
Once the hay is all baled, then it's time to get the bales off the field. You don't want the bales sitting in the field longer than necessary and risk them getting rained on. In addition, in the case of irrigated farming, the fields are usually very thirsty and ready for another drink of water. From the time the hay is cut to the time it is removed from the field and stacked, can sometimes be 1-2 weeks! A lot of it depends on the weather conditions, how heavy (tonnage) the cutting of hay was, how fast the hay dries, and when the correct baling conditions were available. I've had times when it was even longer than 2 weeks. In the middle of Summer, you can be sure that the field is starting to get stressed for water, and you want to get the bales off the field as quickly as possible so irrigation can begin again. If you don't, then the hay field can get stunted and reduce the growth before the next cutting. In extreme cases, shallow rooted crops like grass hay can even die if left without water long enough.
Using a Bale Wagon to Stack Orchard Grass Hay
Hay is stacked and transported in different ways, but in this area is typically picked up and stacked with what is known as a bale wagon. This piece of machinery is sometimes also referred to as a harobed. Odd name. The story goes that the man who invented this piece of farm equipment had a daughter named Deborah, and he decided to call his new machine the harobed (Deborah spelled backwards). In any case, no matter what you call it, the bale wagon picks up individual bales and forms them into a stack on the machine. This block of bales is then taken to a stack area and added to a growing haystack. In my case, I use a small pull-type harobed that is pulled by my tractor and can pick up a maximum of 56 bales (7 layers/tiers of 8 bales). Because of the way I stack my hay, I actually get 54 bales per load. When the bale wagon is full, I pull it to the stack area and place this block of bales up against the previous block of bales. In this way, the stack is growing in length by about 54 bales at a time. This is how it works with my small, pull type bale wagon. More common are the larger, self propelled harobeds that are driven around under their own power. Some of these bigger machines able to pick up around 90 bales at a time. This makes stacking large amounts of hay faster and more efficient. For my farming operation, the pull type harobed is not as efficient, but it is sufficient for the size of my farm.
Once the haystack is completed, I usually try to immediately tarp the stack. In this semi-arid region, rain may not be plentiful, but there is still always a possibility that rain can cause damage. Even though I do tarp my stacks immediately, we've still had thunderstorms that have dumped heavy rains in a short period of time. So much rain that the water ran off the tarps and onto the ground and got under the stack and ruined almost all the bales at the bottom of the haystack. So, the lesson I've learned is that it's better to sell the hay as soon as possible (even at a lower price) rather than having the stack sit for a long time and risk rain damage.
Flatbed Truck Being Loaded with Alfalfa Hay
Once I have my hay stacked and tarped, I call a hay buyer that I think might be interested in the hay. When I say "hay buyer", I am not referring to an individual that buys a few bales here or there for their own animal. I am talking about a buyer who purchases hay by the semi-load. Quite often, I am selling my hay to feed stores that turn around and sell it to their customers. Sometimes after I call, a hay buyer will come and get it immediately, and sometimes the hay may sit for some weeks. Typically, I try to work it out so that it's only a matter of days, even if that means selling at a lower price. As I've mentioned, you can end up losing a lot more if your hay is damaged by the weather while sitting for too long.
A typical semi-load of hay is around 500 - 600 bales and it is loaded on double trailers. Believe it or not, the bales are loaded on the truck one bale at a time! It's not quite as bad as it sounds though. Along with the semi-truck, a boom truck shows up to help with the loading. The boom truck has a long, telescoping boom arm with a steel cable that has a sharp hook on the end. The boom operator is on top of the hay stack hooking individual bales with one hand, while holding a remote box that controls a winch at the base of the boom arm. In this way, he can pick up each bale and then swing it over to the man on the truck's flatbed trailers. One bale at a time, nearly 600 bales are moved and re-stacked on the semi this way. A good team can load 600 bales of hay in less than 2 hours. It goes amazingly fast if the guys are experienced and know what they are doing. It's always a happy sight for me to see a semi-load of our hay being hauled away. That means that hopefully a payment check will be in the mail soon to convert some of that blood and sweat (hard work) into some money to pay the bills.