First Crop Hay Time

Greetings from Minnesota. It’s been cool here the past few days, with morning temps in the 50’s and highs reaching 60’s or low 70’s.

I promised to tell some tales about hay, and that’s just what I intend to write about – with some running tales at the end for good measure.

Hay is one of the primary feeds for our cows, and we generally cut our hay fields 3 times per summer.

In our area, it’s common to do either 3 or 4 cuttings, just based on the farm’s preference and how much feed they need.

Hay can be made from grasses, but on most dairies hay is made up of alfalfa. Alfalfa is actually a legume, and it’s got thick stems and gets leafy as it grows tall. I found a pretty good alfalfa link if you want to learn more.

Once the alfalfa is tall enough and the forecast looks clear, the first step is to cut. We do this with a swather, which can probably be compared to a giant lawnmower.

If the hay isn’t drying well enough once it’s cut, then we may need to go through it with a hay rake to move it around and help it dry.

This last week, we had warm dry weather and that wasn’t necessary. We then drive through with a merger, which basically merges or combines two cut rows together. Below is a picture of the tractor with the merger.

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Then, the hay can either be made into bales or chopped. Hay needs to be drier to bale than to chop, and we chop virtually all our hay.

A large machine called a chopper drives through the field and picks up the cut hay from the ground. It chops the hay into shorter pieces.

They hay moves through the chopper in a pretty quick, continuous process, and it comes out a curved spout on the top that drops into a semi driving next to the chopper.

Here’s JR in the chopper heading out to the field.

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Chopped hay is called haylage, and we store ours in large, tightly packed piles covered with thick plastic held down by tires. It may sound strange, but it works well and is a great way to recycle old semi side wall tires!

So, the semi loads full of hay return to the farm, dump the hay onto the pile, and keep returning to the field for more loads.

It took a very full day to chop hay, and we did a bit less this first cutting than normal. Once we’re done, then we gather all the people we’ve got to help unroll the plastic over the pile and throw tires on top.

If you want to see the makings of a hay pile in action, check out the video on my friend Tara’s dairy farm blog

Running Tales

This Saturday morning I finally got my running shoes back on. I felt like I hadn’t run in forever, but it was really just a little over a week.

My legs felt good, and the 50 degree temps were perfect. I had Calvin with me, and he seemed to tucker out around mile 4. I think he does better on cold weather runs because he easily made it 10 miles with me on a 30 degree day a few months ago.

I went just over 6 miles, and my body didn’t protest much. I think this means there may be hope for me running a 10K next weekend.

After the run, I let Calvin cool off in the nearby lake for a bit. Very happy dog. 🙂

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Any questions about the hay process?

Have a great Sunday everyone!

About Lisa

Hi, I'm Lisa. Dairy farmer's wife and Minnesotan to the core, I write about rural farm life, running down country roads, and the food, faith, and family that bind everything together. Follow along on my journey.
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8 Responses to First Crop Hay Time

  1. runblondie26 says:

    Very interesting. So when you buy “grass fed beef” is it actually grass the cows or fed, or is it hay? I can see why it’s so much easier for companies to stuff cattle full with corn instead. Is hay the preffered feed for dairy cows or just something you prefer to use?

    Sounds like you’ve bounced back from your illness. Good luck withyour race this weekend!

    • Lisa says:

      I’m thinking grass-fed beef has to be grazed on grass when possible, but I know they also get fed hay. In a climate like MN, grazing would only be possible about 6 months a year, and cattle obviously need to eat over the long winter too.

      Almost all dairies feed some hay, but also feed some chopped corn silage, grains, additional minerals and vitamins. Some seasonally graze, and feed also depends on the types of crops that are available or grow best in the area.

      And thanks; I am mostly feeling better. I’m still extra tired much of the time, but hopefully that will pass soon!

  2. bearrunner says:

    Interesting.. I never knew about Chopping, only bailing… Our dairy farm bailed all ours. Is that like insulage???

    Good job on the run!

    Cheers

    • Lisa says:

      I’m not familiar with insulage and couldn’t find much on google. I’m guessing it’s similar to our corn silage or haylage though….

  3. Jena says:

    Glad you are feeling a little bit better and were able to get in a run. I can’t believe Calvin ran 10 miles with you! Wyatt would be over it after 2 or 3 I think. He also doesn’t do that well on a leash. We talk him on 1-2 mile walks, after that he starts to slow down and look bored.. plus it’s super hot. That probably has a lot to do w/ it

  4. Heidi Nicole says:

    Ahh…haying. I always preferred to have chopped hay – sure it got stuck in EVERYTHING but having hay stuck in your boots, hair and underwear was better than stacking bails in a stiflingly hot barn!

    So you store the hay in bunkers? Or do you have the long plastic tubes of hay (I have no idea what the technical term is…)?

    And this isn’t entirely a hay question, but when you feed the cows do you give them strictly chopped hay or do you r mix it with anything? We would usually mix the silage with corn/soybeans/etc in a feeder truck that stirred it all up before feeding it. Just curious.

    • Lisa says:

      We do store it in bunkers (not the long plastic bags). If you go back to one of my very first posts, there is a picture of our bunkers during corn silage.

      And yes, we feed a total mixed ration where we mix up haylage, corn silage, and needed vitamins, minerals, protein, etc to give the best nutrition we can.

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