Making Hay: Small Plots Part II
There are a few places in the world where hay is taken up for feeding stock in the old fashioned way and although this is very laborious indeed, the sharing of the work task among villagers and large families makes the work efficient, productive and expedient.
There was once in the 1800’s an actual profession as a “ hayman”. About five men with very sharp scythes would stagger them selves on a hay, or grain field, and start cutting-swinging their scythes with the long thin blades and with a cradle of finger size wooden pegs on the snath of the scythe. This cradle would hold the grain and/or hay in place with the seed heads laying all neatly in one direction so that after laying it on the ground the women and older men could gather it up in shocks to dry then later or pitch into the wagons to take to the barns. All neatly stacked-grain ends out. Note the lead in picture of a grain cradle and the neat laying of the sheaves ready for bundling up.
Sometime in the early 1900’s a mechanical “sheaving” device, dragged behind the horses was developed and rapidly bought up and in use in this area up through the 1940’s. There may be a few left in old barns yet but it was considered obsolete compared with the development of the square baler machine.
The hay of course was fed to the stock grain ends first and if you ever watched a hay muncher that animal will work the seed end in the mouth first – if possible- and as the hay opposite ends become stalky and less nutrition, they bite it off. Most of the hay waste you might see in this manner of feeding is stalks, and only fit for bedding, mulching, and the compost pile.
Animals were only rationed hay and encouraged to forage. First-hay was a standby for bad weather, night feedings and of course winters. Horses have one stomach and are known as “hay burners”. What goes in comes out quickly and it is a never-ending task to feed horses. Cattle, goats and other ruminants will pack hay in the first stomach-the rumen- partially digest it with acids, regurgitate it and chew it as a cud. Swallowing again this goes through the other stomachs. I have always found it pleasurable to sit or lie down with my goats and listen to chewing. They would burp too.
Unless you have a communal arrangement, or a village of haymakers, doing this all on your own is about limited to a ¼ acre of land and it takes a robust person to do this. Of course people may try and some succeed, but the lure of modern convenience, energy and time constraints move us towards mechanization.
A walk behind sickle bar cutter is a consideration, although it does not lay the hay or grain as neat as a hand scythe. In either case you will have to tether the hay-fluff it up- from the ground after it is cut so the bottom moisture does not create mold. BCS Garden Tillers are the only mechanical tools I am aware of that offer sickle bar cutters.
Many people are lured into the idea of a tractor. There was a time you could purchase a horse drawn sickle, bar cutter but the tractor came along and by the 1950’s a 30 HP tractor could be had with a sickle bar hay cutter. Many of these old machines are still in use, but fading. I would not recommend old machinery, as it is a constant headache to repair and find parts for.
A modern tractor at 40HP is as small as you can probably find for a hay cutter. Considering the thousands in cost, you could purchase and have delivered a lot of hay for thirty to fifty thousand dollars.
Since I am not involved with major size hay burners, my rabbits and chickens do well with one round bale at fifteen dollars delivered, or a few square bales.
Farmers have been discussing what type of grasses and grains to grow. I would contact the local Extension Office and take their recommendations although consider that replanting acres of land for a specific grass variety could be expensive. However if you are raising quality hay burners then you must comply with their needs such as Timothy and Alfalfa for horses. Some local Horse People I know have a never-ending problem of getting enough hay and then dry storing it for their needs. You can find yourself in a never-ending paradigm of one process requiring another process and going broke. Take a couple of years and gradually think and observe what you really want and need.
If you want to go into honeybees in a big way, which I sometimes fantasize about, my 5-acre hay field could be lightly disked, limed (again) and reseeded into wildflowers for the bees.
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