Our little herd grazes on open pastures all summer and fall. They munch on clovers, alfalfa, grasses and herbs. But come winter, they’ll feed on large round bales of dried hay grown and stored just for that purpose.
You’ve probably seen the bales while riding along country roads or in movies about farming. If you’re lucky, you’ve come upon a field shortly after the hay was cut. The sweet, warm fragrance of alfalfa and grass can’t be matched. It’s one of the pleasures of raising grass-fed beef.
At the height of summer, a well-seeded hay field is emerald green, thick with leafy alfalfa and a variety of grasses. If you’re growing hay for dairy cows, the percentage of alfalfa is high and may constitute 100% of the plants. Because Dave and I raise BueLingo beef cattle, our 22 acres are covered with a generous mix of alfalfa plus timothy and brome grasses – fiber important to herd health.
- A well-seeded hay field can yield up to three cuttings of hay during a growing season. This means mowing in late June, mid-to-late July, and again, maybe, in mid-September.
- How quickly, and how often, you cut hay depends on the weather. You can’t cut and dry hay well if it’s rainy.
- When ready to be cut, the alfalfa plants may be well over 2-ft tall. Grasses in the mix may be even taller. (Weather is a factor, again. Plants stressed by heat, rain, or drought may be shorter.)
- Each cutting must be mowed, dried, raked (to promote drying) and then baled into those big hockey puck-shapes or into rectangular-shaped bales.
- The finished bales need to be moved off the field so that they don’t smother regrowth of the alfalfa and grasses.
- A round bale can weight anywhere from 900-1,200 lbs.
A couple of weeks back, I used a 1960’s diesel tractor to move half-ton bales cut and rolled from our first hay crop. My objective was to line them up along a fence where they’ll sit till needed this winter. “Farmers take pride in lining the bales straight,” was my husband’s challenge. Keeping the bales from dropping off the hay spear was a major task on the first day of shifting hay.