Making High-Quality Hay
Courtesy of Oxbow Pet Products
John Miller, President Oxbow Enterprises
One of the most misunderstood concepts about "life on the farm", and those associated activities, is just "what does it mean to 'make hay'?" Even many farmers, or people who consider themselves to be in the hay business, do not fully understand the complexities of this question. To make "good hay", the farmer needs a good working knowledge of plant physiology, knowledge of weather conditions and correct timing of the cutting, drying, and baling processes. Then there is the delicate balance of determination, perseverance, patience, cooperation with Mother Nature, and flat out LUCK, that all affect the quality of the final hay product. In consideration of all of the above, Oxbow has built it's reputation on being one of the best at balancing the above variables, and one of the best at bringing only the highest quality to our customers.
The first variable that must be considered is the maturity of the hay at the time that it is cut. Preferably, in order to obtain the optimum yield and maturity (which includes a reasonable mix of protein, fiber, and palatability), the hay is cut just as the plant is starting to head. Different 'quality needs' may affect this decision. If the weather has allowed the farmer to cut at this optimum stage, the next steps are the 'drying process' and then the 'baling process'. The drying process is greatly affected by the sun, wind and humidity. If there is plenty of sun and wind, plus low humidity, then the hay will dry quickly. This drying process will usually take anywhere from 3-5 days. At any time during these 3-5 drying days, the 'wrong weather conditions' can adversely affect the quality of the hay. Just having too much humidity at night, or some fog during the day, or rain, or just not enough wind, can ruin the hay. Thus, sun, wind, and humidity are key determinates of the hay quality.
The baling process, which is also controlled by the sun, wind and humidity, is also very important. The hay that is baled on any given day can vary drastically depending upon whether it was baled at 2 PM, 6 PM, 10 PM, 1 AM, or 3 AM, because the sun, wind and humidity can vary drastically (obviously if the baling happens at night) during those time frames. If you know what you are doing and what weather conditions you are looking for, ANDyou are LUCKY, you can bale some beautiful hay. If the temperature, humidity, and wind are optimum at the time you are baling (quite often this is at night), your hay will be the soft, green, palatable hay that you desire. If these factors are not optimum at night, you may decide to wait until morning when you hope the conditions are better. Then by morning, it could be raining, and the beautiful hay you were planning to bale for your customers is either ruined by rain, or, there is not enough humidity and the hay is too hard and stemy, or there is too much humidity and thus the hay might be prone to molding because the hay would be too damp. Even if all of the above conditions were optimum and you have baled some beautiful hay, there is still the important and timely task of getting the hay stored properly in a shed before the weather has a chance to still ruin the hay. If you consider all of the variables presented above, you soon understand how hay can differ so greatly from year to year, from field to field, from bale to bale, and basically, almost from bag to bag.
"Making Hay" is truly one of the most difficult 'quality control' jobs in the world. Most people do not have the right mental attitude nor the patience to correctly do the job. When you find someone who does understand the art of 'making hay', you had better wish them good health and a long life so that they can continue to provide for you the quality of hay that your animals desire and need.