A beginner’s guide to hay

round bale of hay

A picture of a round bale of hay from first cut 2013

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been at my in-laws’ farm. They needed some help on their farm, and I was more than happy to oblige. Because it was hay season, I got to learn a lot about hay.

So here’s what I learned about hay.

Bonus Video

In this bonus video, I show you the process of making hay in Farming Simulator 2013.

Let me know what you think.

What type of hay seeds work?

When you grow hay it can be a combination of seeds. Many farmers prefer a combination of different seeds.

A great combination is alfalfa, fescu grass and clover.

Depending on what type of livestock a farmer has will change what combination of hay they want. Some horse farmers prefer one combination where sheep farmers may want another.

Keep that in mind when you’re selling hay. Take note of what’s in your hay because some farmers are very particular.

How to know when to cut hay?

It’s funny when I was helping out, I didn’t cut any hay, so I had no idea when to do it. So I asked when you should cut hay.

The best time to cut hay is when your hay-field is just about to flower. That’s the answer I got for first cut.

OMAFRA suggests cutting hay in the morning just after the morning dew is off for better drying. However, if you want more sugar in your hay OMAFRA suggests cutting hat later in the day.

Try to cut a swath that is as large as possible. This helps hay dry faster.

How to know when hay is dry?

Now that you’ve cut the hay you need to know when it’s dry. The way I learned to see if it is dry is to reach under the windrow and feel the bottom of the hay.

If the hay feels moist, then it’s not ready to bale. An easy test to do to see if hay is ready and bend it in half. If the hay is still wet, it won’t make any crunching sounds. If the hay is ready, it will make a crunching sound and snap almost. Do this test with the hay at the bottom of your windrow.

If the hay it still moist, you have two options:

  1. You can use a tedder to turn over hay and to help it dry faster.
  2. You can wait a bit longer to let it dry.

The advantage of using a tedder is that your hay will dry faster. The disadvantage is by tedding you will lose material in turning over your hay.

If you wait longer, then time and the weather will be your problem.

How to bale hay?

small square baler

This is a picture of me using the small square baler attempting to get all the hay in the baler.

I didn’t do much baling because I was very slow at it, but I did do some when I was at the in-laws.

I noticed that you have to bale very slow in most cases. I was using a small square baler and the windrows were pretty big, so I had a hard time to keep the baler where I wanted it.

One choice you need to make if you’re baling rounds is, whether you want net wrap or twine.

This choice is largely dependant on your baler. Some balers can use both others only twine.

Advantages of using twine

  • Twine is very cheap. It runs around 30$ for 28,000 feet.

Disadvantages of using twine

  • Twine takes a while to wrap bales up. If you’re using a round baler, you will have to wait longer using twine.

Advantages of net wrap

  • Net wrap is faster than using twine. Even if you do two wraps, it’s quicker than twine.
  • Because you’re not spinning the bale as much, there is less loss when spinning.
  • Also, net wrap bales come out very neat and tidy, which can help if you’re selling hay.
  • Some suggest that net wrap can shed water better than twine.

Disadvantages of net wrap

  • Net wrap is more expensive than twine. It can be one dollar per bale whereas twine is cents.
  • Some farmers say that net wrap bales stick to frozen ground more than twine.

Storing hay

Bale autostacker

My father in law picking up the small squares in the field.

Once you’ve baled your hay you need to store it somewhere.

The best place to store hay is inside. Cover alls, or storage sheds work well.

If you don’t have storage space inside, you can use a tarp to protect your hay outside.

A big concern when you’re storing hay is heat. You need to be very careful how you store you hay. If you bunch hay bales together too much, your hay will heat up. So, provide space for the heat to escape.

Final thoughts

Hay is a lot of work but the rewards are well worth it. I mean without it, many animals wouldn’t have anything to eat.

Do you have an insight on hay? Leave a comment below.


New farmers guide to soil management

why it is important to learn how to maintain soil

Photo by John A. Kelley

Being a new farmer you need to know the basics about soil management. I had to do a lot of research about soil to write this post. I will link to a few sites that I found very helpful while doing my research.

The idea behind this post is to summarize the information I found, and present it to you in easy-to-understand way. Essentially, try to give you what you need to know.

As I mentioned before, knowing the basics about soil is an essential part about being a farmer.

Determine your soil type

Determining your soil type is probably one of the most important things you could do as a new farmer. What this allows you to do is decide what type of crop you can use on your farm. As we know, some crops do better than other crops. We can figure out which crops will do better, if we find out what soil type we have.

Soil types

So what are the soil types? I touched on this a bit in a definitive guide to buying farmland, however, I didn’t go into detail.

There are three basic types of soil:

  • Clay
  • Loam
  • Sand

Clay holds the most water. If you’re trying to farm, you probably don’t want a lot of Clay on your property. Some crops need a bit of Clay, but it’s not your ideal choice.

Loam is the type of soil that you want as a farmer. It provides all the necessary elements to grow the best crop possible.

In many cases, you will have a combination of loam and sand or loam and Clay.

Sand doesn’t hold any water. If you are trying to grow something in your field, you will likely be less successful than someone who has a loam field.

As I mentioned before, these are just the basic types. Many people will talk about different types, but I didn’t want to get into all that. I am trying to keep it straight forward, so it is easy to understand. I know I got bogged down when I was doing research, so I am trying to prevent that here.

Let’s continue.

Soil testing

Soil testing is essential. It is important to get your land tested because this tells you what nutrients you are lacking in your soil. If you are lacking a certain nutrient, your crop may not do as well as you would like.

You should get your soil tested by your local expert. Having a local expert test your soil, will give you the most insightful information.

So what are you testing for? Soil nutrients of course.

The soil nutrients they are looking for are:

  • Plant-available phosphorus (sodium bicarbonate extractable)
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium (ammonium acetate extractable)
  • Manganese and zinc (index of soil pH and extractable element)
  • pH
  • Lime requirement (SMP buffer pH)
  • Nitrate nitrogen (mostly for corn and requires a special test)

After finding out what your soil has or doesn’t have, you can decide what you need to put back into your soil. You need to have a balance of all these nutrients. The balance of these nutrients is what ensures that your crop grows. Some crops use more of one nutrient, so you need to know what to put back into your soil to get the best crop.

OMAFRA suggests that you get your fields tested once every two to three years, but depending on your soil type, and what you are growing, once a year is also possible.

What’s in your soil

What do you want in your soil

What you want in your soil is largely dependent upon which crop you grow. For example, if you grow canola you might want to focus on the amount of sulphur you have in your soil. Also, phosphate and potash are important for canola.

As you can see, it really depends on what crop you have planted. Different crops have different needs. So be sure to check what crop needs what. I found this great reference table from OMAFRA which shows you what each crop needs.

What you don’t want in your soil

You don’t want insects in your soil although some insects are actually good for your plants. Sometimes the best way to manage insects is by rotating your crops. What this does is prevent the insects from becoming localized in one particular field.

Cover crops and why you need them

What is a cover crop?

A cover crop is basically a crop that you plant when your primary crop is off the field. We do not harvest cover crops. They just sit there in the ground and keep nutrients.

What are the benefits of cover crops?

  • It improves the quality of the soil.
  • It helps prevent erosion.
  • It improves fertility of the field.
  • It helps to suppress weeds.
  • It helps to control insects.

Why you need a cover crop?

The reason why you want to use a cover crop is that it improves your soil. Let’s think about this. If we improve our soil, we will improve our crops. Also, if we use cover crops, you will cut the amount of herbicide and insecticide you would need to use on your field. Is that going to be 100% of the time? The chances are probably not, but it will decrease the total amount you need.

What type of cover crops are there?

There are many different types of cover crops. Each cover crop provides its own benefits. Therefore, you will need to make a choice based on what your soil needs. Again, this goes back to getting your soil tested. If you get your soil tested, you will know what cover crop to use.

Here are a few types of cover crops:

  • Clovers
  • Alfalfa
  • Soybeans
  • Rye
  • Oats

Why new farmers need about soil management

New farmers and experience farmers need to know how to maintain soil because it is essential to help prevent erosion. Furthermore, it also helps us keep the soil healthy for upcoming generations.

If we don’t keep the soil healthy, we won’t be able to provide food for the world. That is why it is so important to maintain your soil and help each other.

It is particularly important as a new farmer to understand your soil because it really helps to give you the information you need to make the choices you need to make.


How healthy is your soil?


Further reading for new farmers