Getting Ready for Hay Season

Published on Wed, 02/06/2019 - 12:45pm

 Getting Ready for Hay Season

 By Jaclyn Krymowski for American Cattlemen

 We may still be in the thick of winter, but as the hay stores slowly wane we’re reminded - another haying season will soon be upon us. If you make your own hay, you know that with the satisfaction of a full barn before winter comes some headache and hard work. While there are many things beyond your control in the hay gamble, like how wet or dry the season will be, there are a few things you can start organizing now to get things off to a smooth start.

Mapping it all out
Take a moment to do a brief inventory of your hay fields and current herd status. What are your hopeful goals and bare minimum requirements? For example, how much stored hay do you need to make it through the next winter? What are the forage nutrient requirements of your herd? Are you able to buy any additional hay or are you entirely dependent on what you produce? As your herd and needs likely change each year, so will your hay crop requirements.
If you consult a regular nutritionist, now would be a good time to discuss your haying plans. Look into what mixes you have growing and see if anything needs to be re-seeded or added into the mix. Your hay varieties and forages may change depending on what you will be doing with it around harvest. If you are making silage or wet wrapping bales, your needs will be different than someone who is round baling. On that note, look ahead at the predicted season ahead of you for your area. If you are in for a particularly wet season, you may look into wrapping bales.

Check equipment
Hay making is already plenty expensive. Equipment that breaks down or has issues unexpectedly can jack up that cost even more. Go through each piece of equipment that you have and be sure to check all moving parts. Things that are adjustable may need adjusting. Remember, seasonal equipment is often subject to being overlooked as they are stored away for months on end. It can be easy to assume everything will be in the same working order you put them away as which isn’t necessarily true.

Some pieces may need to be cleaned if they are clogged with grass from last season or have been sitting in a barn collecting dust. Pay close attention to things like hydraulic lines and anywhere there is a power take-off (PTO) connection. This is also a good time to grease any bearings and other moving parts that have grown dry and stiff.
For rakes and mowers, look for a teeth, blades and disks that may be missing or damaged. A test run is recommended to see if anything needs to be realigned.
Balers and windrowers should receive a close inspection as well. Again, follow the same routine - grease any bearings, moving parts that need it, replace missing parts and do any adjustments, especially on timing mechanisms. Anything that you won’t be able to do yourself, schedule an appointment with the local shop and make sure you get them in well before you’ll actually need them.
Also take inventory on your secondary items. These can include moisture testers, baling netting, twine and wire, hay wagons, bale wrapping and wrappers.

Know your resources
With the costs and difficulties of making hay, this is one area you want to have as little error as possible. Knowing who to turn to for your questions and concerns can eliminate some of the guesswork and save you trouble and money in the long run.
Your extension office can be a great go-to resource for your questions or to find specialized help. Universities are also helpful. And of course, don’t be afraid to talk to those in your community who produce hay, especially if this isn’t your area of expertise. If you don’t personally own all the needed equipment to do your own hay from grass to bale, this would also be a good opportunity to see about renting equipment.
One element that sometimes gets overlooked is properly determining forage quality and nutritional value. This not only helps you know if you are feeding the appropriate hay to your animals, but also adds value to any bales you decide to sell. While there are plenty of excellent indicators to help you sort out poor and high quality hay such as color, smell and leafiness, the only way to know exact nutritional content is via lab testing. Taking and submitting your own forage samples is a fairly pain-free process. A hay probe can be purchased for relatively cheaply and will last a lifetime. Contact your local extension office or university to find a lab near you or ask your nutritionist for recommendations.