As a Jersey girl, I grew up with a saying.
My mom said it.
My dad said it.
Teachers and friends said it.
For a bunch who predominantly aren’t farmers, they sure have a lot to say about agricultural production.
“You gotta make hay while the sun shines.”
Here in Eastern Colorado, you actually have to make hay while the moon shines. Yeah, I know. You already knew that by the title of this blogpost. We’ll add this to my list of sayings that I grew up with that don’t actually make any sense in Colorado.
It turns out that there’s actually a scientific process to making hay. Who knew, right? As best I understand it, there is a certain ideal humidity range to make hay. If it’s not humid enough, the bale won’t actually stick together. If it’s too wet, it’s a fire hazard (which I totally don’t understand, but I’m just the Jersey girl). Here in Eastern Colorado, we usually hit that ideal hay-making humidity range in the middle of the night. Everything in my life got flipped, turned upside down, like Fresh Prince, moving to Colorado. But the toilets still whirl the same way here as in New Jersey. Honest.
And now, I going to dedicate the rest of this post to everything you ever wanted to know and why about making hay. Cut me some slack. I am a Jersey girl explaining this all in Jersey-terms. People like my husband who have grown up out here have known this all since they were two. They’d probably just shake their heads at me. But that’s OK. We’ll continue and learn about hay.
Hay is made by cutting a crop growing in a field and forming it into a big chunk. There three basic shapes and sizes of hay. There are “large square bales”, “round bales” and “small square bales”. I am least familiar with the first two. One time we bought a large square bale from a neighbor. He brought it here. The bale weighed maybe 250 pounds. He had the specialized equipment for it. He dropped it here and we gradually flaked it off and gave it to our goats to eat. Since large square bales weigh so much, they require that specialized equipment. We don’t have it. There are also “round bales”. I am told these weigh over a thousand pounds. They also require specialized handling equipment. We don’t have that either. I am most familiar with “small square bales”. These are maybe 70 pounds. I can lift them. They do not require any special equipment and work well for small-scale farmers like me.
Hay can also be categorized by which crop it is made from. People bale grass, foxtail millet, alfalfa, corn, clover and maybe everything in between. There can also be mixed crops. There can be different qualities. A first alfalfa cutting is different than a second or third. Hay can be weedy. It can be organic. Different hay has different nutritional qualities for the livestock. Hay can be everything.
Hay and straw are different. Straw is actually made from the “leftovers”, usually wheat. After the farmer harvests his main crop, he sometimes bales his leftover residue. This is straw. Straw isn’t typically fed to animals- it has minimal nutritional value and the animals won’t eat it. Of course the same humidity rules apply here, too, and we also make straw while the moon shines.
Now I’m going to summarize the hay-making process:
1. Plant the field into cropx.
2. After cropx has matured, swath it. Swathing is a fancy name for both mowing and placing it into windrows. Windrows are the crop or residue (in the case of straw) that is cut and put into a smaller pile. Windrow is usually plural because no one makes just one. A swather is usually an attachment that goes onto the back of a tractor.
3. The windrows may have to age. They may have to dry a little bit. This probably depends on the actual crop, the location and the weather.
4.Set your hygrometer alarm to wake you up when it does get to that humidity. Get up and drive your baler (tractor with bale-making attachment) over the windrow. The baler will poop out bales of hay, while the moon shines. Different balers make different sizes of bales.
5. Drive back over the field with a bale wagon. A bale wagon is a huge machine that will suck up bales and put them in nice stacks.
6. Remember that I’m a Jersey girl and that if you are actually so inclined as to make hay, you should probably consult with an expert and not actually go by these above instructions.
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