You don’t harvest hay, I’ve learned.
You put up hay.
Many of you already know this. But I didn’t. Not until recently. In fact, I had never really thought about it, because I’ve lived within city/small town limits in one way or another until this year.
Until I had horses, hay wasn’t a part of my everyday life. I’ve never had to know necessarily the process of how it got from the field to our alley. It’s kind of like the whole issue of people eating but having no idea where, other than the store, their food comes from. You need hay? Go to the hay store, right? Just kidding. I wasn’t that naive. But the entire process of how it was cut, raked and ‘put up’, I didn’t need to know.
It’s almost too late in the year here in South Dakota to be haying. There is a heavy dew on the ground each morning anymore and hay needs to be put up at a certain moisture level. If it’s too wet or the moisture level is too high, it gets moldy when baled. Worse yet, it can actually start on fire.
(So can the underbelly of a hot vehicle out in a dry field when trying to fix broken down equipment. We may or may not know from experience this past week.)
Regardless, the Cowboy, his brother and dad wanted one last cutting before winter this year.
It had been quite awhile since they had cut their own hay. Typically, the Cowboy would trade it out for horseshoeing and the trade ended up being pretty fair. That was, until last year when the price of a round bale went from around $60 to $180. The drought across a good stretch of the country had much of the hay grown in the northern states going south, driving prices up.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the process: The grass grows. Whatever kind you’ve got or want; Alfalfa. Prairie Grass. Timothy. Bermuda grass. You wait until it grows tall, it gets cut, lays on the ground and you wait for it to dry/dehydrate. The sun and wind are responsible essentially for taking out all the moisture. Once it’s in the right state, the grass/hay gets raked into windrows (another new term to me) with a piece of machinery called a ‘rake’.
The hay then needs to sit again anywhere from one to five days without any rain getting on it. If it’s dry enough, it gets baled into whatever your preference might be. Round bales, little square bales, big square bales, haystacks .. “but not many people do those anymore,” the Cowboy says to me.
Alfalfa, he adds, you want to leave a little bit moisture content so the leaves stay on it. He tells me, that’s where all the nutrients come from.
“The problem is, this time of year it doesn’t get warm enough to dehydrate it so that’s where we’re running into problems right now. You might have to rake it two or three times to get it dry enough. If it gets moldy, they’ll eat it if they have to, but otherwise the horses get sick.”
His dad just called to check on the status of where things are at .. the Cowboy tells him he hopes it’s dry enough. But he’s off to rake again one more time today in an effort to get the hay put up before the first snowflakes of the season. Forecast for this weekend…