Hazel, willow, beef and storytelling from Bedfordshire

Making hay

Flowering grasses, ready for making into hay

Flowering grasses ready for making into hay

Being away from home all day yesterday, I was spared involvement in the annual hay cutting decision. Which was something of a relief as it’s often a bit agonising. 

A neighbour, Gordon has been cutting and baling our hay each summer since we started and whilst he and his family team do a wonderful job, he always, very wisely allows us to make the decision to start.

It’s a nervous one. Two factors come into play: 

  • Is the grass at its best or might it produce more bulk if left for a few more days or weeks?
  • Will it rain before it can be baled and safely stored under cover?
Freshly cut grass waiting to become hay

Freshly cut grass waiting to become hay

Both questions are difficult to answer with certainty. The former is down to experience and we are probably getting better at it. The latter remains agonising however many weather forecasts you listen to. 

Hay is simply sun-dried grass; a herbivore’s biltong. It’s our winter feed mainstay, so producing a plentiful supply of good quality is pretty important for the health of our herd through the coming winter. Making it requires a load of machinery (that’s why we don’t it ourselves yet), lots of help and a period of dry weather with hot sunshine and warm breezes. It doesn’t usually happen exactly like that. 

So now the grass has been cut for 24 hours and more and we’ve had one fantastic, hot day. The forecast is good although there is mention of cloud and possible showers in the far west of the country, which is generally where our weather comes from. 

Our grass has lots of clover in it, which is good from a nutritional point of view. Gordon suggests that if the weather stays hot, we don’t turn it more than absolutely necessary in an attempt to capture as many of those small, food-packed leaves as possible, which otherwise would be shaken off the stems and lost. After cutting, grass is turned with a bizare, tractor driven thing called a ‘tedder’ or hay-bob. Its curious business end throws the grass into the air rather elegantly, giving every stem its time in the sun (in theory). Its last trick on a final pass is to pull all the dried and beautifully fragrant grass together into ‘windrows’, evenly spaced to be consumed by the baler; an act known as ‘rowing up’. 

Every shower of rain reduces the grass’s food value and requires at least one additional pass of the tedder. Perfect weather produces the best hay, but as your weather luck fails the value of your hay decreases and its cost increases – all pretty much beyond your control.

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