June and July are the traditional haymaking months and so it’s been a busy time getting the grass cut, dried out, baled and stacked.
Most years our hay is made from permanent pasture so it’s a matter of cutting it when the quality and quantity are at their optimum levels.
We use a tractor and large mower to cut the grass, which is then left in rows to dry out. The drying process is done by a combination of sun and wind, and the hay is also turned by the tractor and tedder to expose the bits underneath to the elements.
In very hot weather it obviously requires less turning than when the temperature is lower. And if there is a good drying wind, that is better than very humid conditions.
These days all hay is baled, although the bales come in all sizes. The original mechanical balers created bales that could be picked up by a man, but these days the sizes have increased because there is the machinery to lift them. The trend is certainly towards bigger and bigger bales because there is more powerful machinery available. Once baled, the hay is moved to the stacking yards where it is covered either under a roof or a weatherproof sheet.
A few years ago we were able to control the botanical composition of one particular field of hay after an arable field was planted with a break crop of grass with clover in the mixture. This produced a rich crop that was very suitable for race horses and so we were able to sell it rather than feed it to our own suckler herd.
Different animals have different requirements. Horses are more picky and appreciate the better quality hay, although a little hacking pony wouldn’t want anything that rich. Sheep need a finer hay for their smaller mouths. Suckler cattle will eat almost anything. The hay of course is made for winter feed. Hay making is just a way of conserving the surplus grass that grows in the spring and summer, to use in the winter when growth is insufficient and most of the stock is indoors. It’s a way of levelling out the production cycle throughout the year.