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Cow Tales from the Dairy Farm – Hay, How’s your Season Going?

Mowing hayKathy Benoit, a dairy farmer from our Connecticut office, returns as this week’s FarmTek Farmer.

Now that the corn successfully has grown “knee-high by the Fourth of July,” it is time to turn to our other important crop…hay. Mother Nature has been smiling on us here in the Northeast, because we already have our first cutting in and are working through our second cutting.

Holsteins eatingOn the farm we grow several types of hay for different age groups of cows and we also sell some to horse and sheep owners. We raise alfalfa, fescue and orchard grasses. Many times we square bale our hay; this makes it really convenient for the hay customers to handle bales and easier for us when feeding smaller groups of animals. I was lucky when I was younger as I was considered the “princess” of the barn; I stayed and milked cows while everyone else went and either stacked hay on the wagon or picked it up off the fields.

As I got older, I wanted to learn how to stack hay properly both in the field and in the barn. Milking cows is one of my favorite things to do, but I wanted to feel more useful on the farm.Hay wagon I compare my first time riding on the back of the hay wagon much like riding the subway in New York (with the exception of the smell). If you are not paying attention, you can get jostled around and stumble about. Unlike the subway, our hay wagons have nothing to hang onto to keep from falling off. Our wagons have a single back piece to prevent hay from falling off the back and completely open sides. Now after stacking hay for a few seasons, I barely notice the movement.

Once all the hay is stacked on the wagon, it is time to bring it into the loft and unload it. Using either brute force to throw the bales to the person stacking in the corner of the barn or using our hay elevators to get them to the high loft, it takes a short time to unload our wagons. My least favorite place to be is in the high loft. It’s not the height that bothers me (even though when standing on a full stack of hay, you are two to three stories higher than the barn floor), it is the heat. We “make hay while the sun shines,” so the high loft is HOT. We open windows and have a cupola at the top of the barn, but still it can be a bit sweaty. Pacing ourselves and hoping for a stray breeze is the only way we get through unloading more than one wagon in a row.

A pile of round balesWe bale our hay in both small square bales and larger round bales. The square bales are housed in our hay loft in the main barn on the farm, but our round bales get either wrapped for baleage or stacked for feeding throughout the year. Being too big for the main barn, we store our round bales outside. We have learned the best way to stack our bales is having a base of two bales and then a single peak bale (our tractor is not large enough to stack higher). This prevents us from getting a bath from old rain water when pushing the hay tarp back in the warmer weather or being buried by an avalanche during the winter months. Protecting the round bales all year long makes the feed more palatable for the cows. It’s almost like you can see their eyes light up in the middle of the winter when we bring in a big green hay bale that smells like it was mowed yesterday. Incidentally, when we bring in a bale to the cows, its best to stay out of their way or they will run you over it hopes of getting to the feed first.

As the summer starts producing crops of all types, where our hay is concerned we are hoping for at least a third cutting or possibly a fourth cutting crop of hay. A fourth cutting is rare for us, but when it is time to feed one of those fourth cutting bales in the middle of January, it reminds the cows and me of the sunshine of summer.

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