Since our herd is entirely grass fed, forage quality is very important to us. In May, June, and July when more grass grows than the cows can graze, we cut and bale the paddocks that are getting ahead for winter feed. Ideally we like to cut before all the forage is fully blooming or headed out.
We cut with a haybine, usually at a height of 4 inches so the grass will recover sooner. It can be a challenge finding a window of enough days with low enough humidity to make good hay here in the Midwest. The hay usually needs a couple days between cutting and baling. Variables include how much dew falls each night, sunshine, humidity levels, wind, forage type and thickness.
A few years ago we invested in a tedder which spreads the hay out after cutting, reducing drying time by a day, or salvaging hay that got rained on. Tedding while the hay is still tough (damp) prevents too much leaf loss.
Usually on the third or fourth day after cutting, towards midday, when the hay is dry on top and stem moisture is reduced enough, we rake into windrows to prepare for baling. If drying conditions aren’t the best, we may rake in singles. If drying conditions are good, we hitch our two rakes in tandem to double the windrows and save baling time.
We will then start baling in mid to late afternoon. We make small square bales for the hayloft over the old barn where we winter young stock. Hay that is barely dry enough is better put into small squares, since they are smaller with more breathing room and can be stacked loosely in the loft to dry.
The bulk of our hay is made into round bales to store in the hayshed for the cow herd. Storing hay inside saves spoilage and makes our winter feeding more convenient.
In recent years, especially with first cutting, we have also made some baleage, where wet hay is baled the day or day after cutting and wrapped in a row of tight plastic where it ensiles. Feed quality is great if the moisture is right, though we do notice a little silage flavor in the milk when we’re feeding that. There is the added expense of hiring the neighbor with his wrapping machine, but it gets the forage harvesting out of the way when row crop tasks are calling.
For us, making the best hay we can is a vital part of keeping the cows well fed all year round.