Making First Cutting Hay, by Kathy Smith

Many farmers in Ashtabula County have started making first cutting hay.  Recent rains slowed the progress somewhat, but several farmers around us have mowed and baled. 

The hay being made at this time of year is especially important because it is very high in nutrients. That means it is excellent feed for cows, horses or any other livestock that consume it. High quality hay is also very important to the farmer who sells it. He can ask top dollar for hay that is made early. 

Some hay made at this time of year will be used for silage bales.  These are the giant marshmallow-looking things that line the edges of many fields. The hay is mowed, raked and baled into large bales. Then it is wrapped in layers of heavy, white plastic. This wrap seals in the freshness so that months later, the bales are still almost like eating fresh grass. Our cows and horses love to eat these. 

Silage bales come in all sizes. Our baler makes ones that weigh about 1500 pounds. We have had some problems when we accidentally poked holes in the wrap while trying to move them so my husband usually dumps the bales about where he wants them and then a neighbor who owns a wrapping machine comes and wraps them in plastic. There is an attachment for a skid steer my husband calls a “squeezer “  that can pick up round bales without breaking the plastic. 

Other farmers are starting to fill silos with chopped grass. This will become silage when it ferments. The grass must be mowed, dried until it is wilted and then picked up and chopped by a silage chopper. It is blown into a square wagon with high sides and when full is unloaded at the silo. Most farmers here in Ashtabula County used to have to blow the silage into 60 foot upright silos. Then a silo unloader or forking it out by hand provided feed for cows during the winter. 

Most farmers today use large cement bunk silos instead of the upright silos. They use tractors and front-end loaders to pack the loose,chopped grass in the bunk and then it is usually covered with plastic.  To feed cows from a bunk silo usually requires tractors and a loader to put the silage into a truck or wagon. Since silage is the bulk of most milk cow diets, it is very important to cut the grass while it is young and tender. 

There is a variety of grass in local hay fields. Our fields are mostly timothy, native blue grass and orchard grass. Some farmers also plant alfalfa, clover and trefoil  for silage and hay. The first grass to“head out” or become mature is usually orchard grass followed by bluegrass and timothy later. Our extremely harsh winter does not seem to have damaged the grasses according to my husband. 

Later when the ground dries more, it will be time to make dry bales.  Many farmers have gone to making the large round bales because they require less labor. The hay still must be mowed, tedded (picking up the hay and fluffing it so it dries), raked into windrows and then baled and moved to the side of the field. Leaving large bales in the field too long will damage the growth of the second cutting hay so farmers try to move the bales as soon as possible. 

Making square bales is more labor intensive because the hay requires more handling. It must be mowed, tedded, raked and then baled onto a wagon. Then the bales have to be unloaded at the barn, put in an elevator and stacked in the hay mow. Lots of work but a necessary job for many farming operations. 

Kathy Smith is a farm wife from Wayne Township. She writes for the Ashtabula County Farm Bureau.