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.



  1. hi,
    my name is Justin and I am looking to start a hay farm I need to know how to write the business plan If you have any pointers that would be great

  2. Cedric says:

    I have a farm with my brothers. We usually arguing about how to cut hay. I have a field of 40 acres I like cutting in a circular motion. My bothers like cutting a straight then turn around and come by down in a straight line again. Which is best?

  3. Dan Clark says:

    I have 2 acres. I live in Pacific Northwest. There is a huge demand for hay for horse and beef. Can I grow top quality hay and make a profit.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You all are wrong on this matter. Rethink what you think you may know.

  5. Rweyemamu Edrick says:

    I want to start a farm. Want to know all machines required to make a hay from planted grass

  6. I use a older equipment it’s a lot simpler and does just as good a job I use a Massey ferguson 165 tractor, a Zweegers drum mower, ferguson rake, and a Massey ferguson baler 124 small square baler I sell to people with horses

  7. If starting out, do NOT do just haying as your sole enterprise. You will grossly fail.
    Hay removes 1/3 the soil carbon and needs to be replaced or rested or cover cropped for green manure. Without replenishing your fields you will lose carbon and humus matter over a few years and face great expenses to re-store your hayfield. If you get a few beef steers, you can rotate them through your fields to help re-store some nutrient loss. The haying equipment is expensive and if you buy new, you better have about 1,000 acres to hay or you will not even pay the interest. Or you could get a BCS walk behind tractor with sickle bar mower, Tedder and mini-round baler for about thirty grand. That would work for small acres like less than a hundred.
    Doing just hay as your Ag endevour is extremely foolish. I am dead serious about nutrient loss over time and it will happen quickly. Watch a Gabe Brown video on YouTube to understand soil performance, cover cropping, grazing livestock, making profit and using hay as last option.

  8. We own and operate a 16 stall horse boarding farm and grow all the hay for our horses. The bedding and manure from the daily stall cleaning is used to fertilize our hay fields in the off season. The wood chips seem to replace the carbon in the soil and aid in retaining moisture while the manure and urine soaked bedding replaces the nitrogen and other nutrients the hay removes from the soil. We use an ABI PTO manure spreader that gives an even distribution of manure to the fields. We began harvesting hay in this fashion mid 2015 and each cut we have made has yielded more hay from each field. We plan to test the soil after this year’s first cut but so far, so good. Our biggest problem is getting 5 dry days to cut and bale our hay.

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