Making Hay

Patricia Lavoie

Making hay is both an art and a science, not to speak of the risks involved as well as the financial investment for purchasing and maintaining equipment.

The tasks and knowledge required are extensive, from monitoring  the moisture of the hay as it matures and the surface soil dampness to deciding when to cut – in the morning after the dew evaporates or in the evening when the sugars and nutrients are at their maximum. What if rain prevents the opportunity? How to avoid insect infestations. After how many years is it time to re-seed? It’s an expensive process, and there are no guarantees it will take. If there is too much cold and rain, the seeds will rot. If it is too hot, they won’t germinate.

Silage hay requires two consecutive dry days to harvest and bale, while dry hay needs a three-day window of same.This year was particularly difficult due to June’s abundant rainfall, and there were no decent dry hay windows beforeJuly. Normally there are two cuts of hay per season, although three cuts are possible depending on, once again, the weather. As West Bolton hay farmer Bruce Weir says, “It’s what you’d like to do vs.what you can do.” Everything is possible if the elements cooperate.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of making hay is local weather forecasting. According to some, it is no longer feasible to rely on what used to be regular weather patterns, and weather and climate are changing, making long-range forecasting more difficult.

This year fertilizer costs doubled, diesel fuel prices rose sharply, hitting tractors as well as shipping, and plastic wrap for bales is pricier. No one has escaped the rise in costs. Beef prices could well rise. On the positive side, there could be a third cut if the weather holds.