Putting Up Hay

We have a lot of horses on small acreage. Although we rotate so that the horses always have some grass to munch on, our set up requires us to feed a lot of hay year around. On average, we feed between two and two and half bales per day, along with other forage sources such as beet pulp and alfalfa cubes. That puts our annual hay consumption at 730-912 bales. If we didn’t feed the beet pulp and alfalfa cubes, that number would double and in years past it often has!

We feed grass hay and buy it from a friend that is local. He cuts his fields three times a year and we purchase pretty much all the hay he puts on the ground. On a good year where there’s plenty of rain and the weather cooperates, he may get a fourth cutting. 

We live in a fairly small rural town about thirty minutes outside of a larger city. There are lots of farmers in our area and just about everyone is related. Because of that, I always thought that people in the area, even non-farmers, would know what the term, “Putting Up Hay” meant and what it involved. Within the last year or so, that assumption was proven wrong!

The friend that cuts the hay is in his seventies, is a diabetic and has kidney failure. Although he’s managed his conditions well and he’s in good shape, when it comes time to cut hay he has no one to help him. As is common for rural culture, we always try to help him when there’s hay to cut even if we’re no buying any. After all, he doesn’t have help and hay is something that has to be removed from the ground that same day or it goes bad and kills the grass underneath. 

It’s also just me and my husband when it comes time to put up hay and we’re not getting any younger. This year we opted to pay some teenagers to help us with the first cutting. The second cutting we didn’t purchase but we still wanted to help and so we put out the word to see if anyone else might be interested. This second cutting was very late due to weather and we knew it was going to be a lot of hay. It wound up being over 900 square bales — normally that field produces 400-600. 

In my quest to find some help these last two cuttings, I discovered something. Even though people may grow up in the middle of a rural culture, they don’t always know what putting up hay is all about. They don’t necessarily know how it’s done, why it’s important, nor do they necessarily understand the seriousness of some of the practices involved. 

For instance, two of the teenagers that helped showed up in silk gym shorts, no shirt, and no socks because it was hot. Even though they came from a small town and had horse friends they really didn’t know how to dress for putting up hay. 

They also had no idea that hay came in small square bales and how it even became a small square object. They were fascinated by the square baler when it would spit out each bale. 

So often we have a tendency to see people coming like that and laugh at what we know they’re in for. Granted, many times I have seen people that worked out that couldn’t handle the heat and the labor of putting up square bales and had an attitude about it as well. Yet these young kids worked their hearts out as well as any kid raised on a farm. Even when their skin turned bright itchy red from all the grass, they kept right at it without complaining. We got up over 500 bales that day. 

When I put out the word to get some help, a dear friend of mine in the same small town offered to come out and help. Then she asked what all was involved in, “Putting Up Hay”. I realized once again that even though she grew up in the middle of farms, she didn’t know what the process was for this one very crucial task at the center of a lot of horse people’s lives. 

Basically, “Putting Up Hay” , or “Cutting Hay” is cutting grass or another type of horse edible plant out in a big field. Then you use equipment to rake and “tetter” or fluff the hay into rows. This is so that it dries and it can be scooped up into a machine to make the bales. After the hay has dried or “cured” for a couple of days, then you drive a piece of equipment called a baler over the rows. The baler scoops the hay up from the ground and then compacts it into small square bales that weigh around 50 to 100 pounds. It then dumps the bale back on to the ground where it has to be picked up manually and put on to a trailer and then put into storage where it can stay dry. 

There are basically three types of balers based on the type and size of the bale it compacts the hay into. Round balers produce the big round bales of hay that can weigh as much as a thousand pounds. Large square balers compact the hay into large squares that can weigh anywhere from 500 to 800 pounds. Then there’s the small square balers that we use.  The type of bale will determine how the hay is put up. Of course the bigger baler require a tractor to lift and carry them out of the field. The small bales are all done manually. 

Hay has to be dry in order to be fed. If the hay isn’t dry, it will mold. If moldy hay is fed to horses it can kill them and this is why putting up hay in a specific manner is crucial. This is also why the hay can’t be baled until the dew has dried off of the grass and why it’s critical for the hay to be gotten up off the ground and stored the same day. 

Once the bales are on the ground, then they have to be manually lifted on to a truck or trailer where they’re stacked. Once the truck or trailer is full, then it’s time to put the bales of hay into the barn. This requires either walking or tossing the into the barn and re-stacking. 

On the outside, you might ask why would you feed small bales if it requires so much manual labor? One good reason is that you can’t feed a big round bale to a horse that’s in a stall. It won’t fit! 

Here’s some pics of the last cutting we helped with – 

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LOADED TRUCKS 

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And this is how I usually dress hauling hay — long pants, long sleeves, and a hat. It’s a good practice any time you put up hay anyhow but I’m also not supposed to be out in the sun and I’m allergic to hay so that’s eve more reason to dress like this!

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Did you learn something new with today’s post? If so, what was it and is it something you can put to good use? 

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