Putting up loose hay and storing it outside?

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Does anyone out there have any expertise in putting up loose hay, storing it outside (covered or not), and feeding it in the winter? Hay has always been a problem for us. We have a small herd of goats and flock of sheep and with winters in Maine as long as they are, we need sizable quantities of hay to feed. We generally pay $2 ot $2.50 a rectangular bale for hay, of variable quality. I originally thought of buying all the equipment to do hay myself -- mower, rake, and baler. But with only a few head small stock it didn't seem cost effective. Not to mention that it's good to have a place to store the equipment under cover. I did buy a mowing machine, though. We have about five acres of pasture and fields that would provide us with more than enough hay. The problem is, we can't get anyone to bale it, even paying $1 a bale. The few farmers left are doing their own, or they have other people they put it up for, or they don't want to bother with our small acreage, or they want to come on their own time (generally about a month after the hay is ready to be cut and has already turned tough and poor.

I remember as a boy putting up loose hay with my dad. I know people used to put up hay loose, layering it and packing it in what amounted to a big bale, perhaps around a pole outside, then covering it or simply letting the top layer shed the rain and snow. My guess would be they still do in some cultures and countries. It would seem that this method, while perhaps labor intensive, would certainly be less capital intensive than mechanizing myself three ways from Sunday. Is there anyone out there who has had experience doing this, and can give me some tips or pointers.


Joe Rankin New Sharon, Maine

-- Joe Rankin (cntryfolk@ime.net), February 18, 2002


I don't put up loose hay but I've run across several articles including one in Farmstead magazine that used to be published in Maine. If you email me with an address, I'll copy the article and send it out to you in exchange for any classified ad publication from your area.

-- Darren (df1@infi.net), February 18, 2002.

If you will send me your address through e-mail and under subject put countryside-hay. I will send you all the info that we have. we now roll ours, but up till the 80's we made hay stacks. Do you know how to tell when it is ready to bale or stack, moisture content? Do you have a hay rake? Hand/ horse? Will be glad to offer what ever assistance we can. Lexi

-- Lexi Green (whitestone11@hotmail.com), February 18, 2002.

Hi Lexi, I would be interested in the details you have on the loose hay etc. I'm interested in doing a couple of acres here, loose and by hand.


-- Carol K (ck7951@bluefrognet.net), February 18, 2002.

Hi Joe,

up til just a few years ago we put up all of our hay loose....about 100 6 ton stacks most years. We used tandem 9 foot sickle mowers to lay it down with. We have a nice adjustable wheel rake which can handle the 18 foot swath even now that we bale it. We used some homemade hay stackers to raise the hay into cages and we hand packed the cages to get the lay right so that it would shed water.

For the barn hay, we used a single 9 foot sickle on a farmall H and we raked it a little with an old dump rake and picked it up with an old new idea hay loader....an interesting contraption that follows the wagon and picks up the loose hay and conveys it to the wagon. Of course we were only doing about 30 acres just for the three story mows.

Now we round bale it all.

OK, for even 5 acres, you will need to do some raking. Find an old side delivery rake for 25 bucks and once the hay is dry, windrow it with the rake (Or make yourself some 3 foot hay rakes out of wood) and then walk along and pitch it into the wagon or just pitch it into stacks. If you want help forming the stacks, just get a length of snow fencing or stiff woven fence that you can set in a circle more or less. Put one person inside to tamp and arrange the hay as others pitch it in. When the height is about 3/4ths of the diameter, start doming the stack and arrange the hay so that it is kind of draped over the dome with the stems radiating out from the center. This will shed much of the rain. Now, in Maine, your rain amount might be a problem. You will need to be careful to lay the top layers well for it to shed water, otherwise you might think of a tarp over the top 2/3 of the stack.

Feeding loose hay outside is easy. You can build a feeder into the stack with gate panels...or just make some feeder panels. You can just open the stacks up one at a time to the herd (plenty of waste this way). You can pitch it into a wagon and then take it to where the animals are wintering and pitch it in a windrow to them. If the stack was real wet when the freeze came, it will have a tough shell of ice on it and you might have to break into it with the tractor or something.

Believe it or not, but we have a trailer called a stack mover that we back into/under the 6 ton stacks and then haul to where the herd is. In fact we used to move the 6 ton stacks to the hay yard...about a 10 acre fenced area to get them off the meadows and in close for winter. Now we use it to move 6 one ton round bales at a time.

I believe that in Maine you need to ted or otherwise condition the hay so it can dry quickly. If you have a mower conditioner, you can probably avoid tedding. If you have to avoid tedding all together because of circumstances so be it. Just know that each time the hay gets rained on or worked it loses 10% of it's feed value more or less. In the Dakotas and Nebraska, I have never ted because we are dry. In Ohio, some of my neighbors ted, but I never do because I learned it all in the Dakotas...and manage to make hay good enough for my breeding stock (cattle).

You are wise to avoid capitalization...especially in machinery that sits idle most of the time.

Best of luck to you. I just might try hand haying an acre or two this year for the fun of it. For the rest though we need to be as quick and efficient as possible. We quit stacking because we could no longer get a crew together and we paid 12 bucks an hour the last year we did it.


-- Oscar H. Will III (owill@mail.whittier.edu), February 18, 2002.

Lexi,I too would be interested in that info. I will e-mail you. Susan

-- Susan n' emily in Tn. (animalcrackers55@hotmail.com), February 18, 2002.

Well I would have said you were all bonkers for even thinking it, but it's an idea easily dismissed when you've never done it. I'll add two ideas to the mix though (because it still sounds like very hard work) Hesston or JD stack makers should be cheap to free in most areas. They are tractor powered (and at least 60 hp) hay loaf makers, that basically mechanically make a stack of hay into a "loaf" The second notion is that there are many round balers out there going very cheap, and I've heard of ground driven versions that basically sweep the hay into "round bales" (read big lumps)that could be pulled by something like a pickup truck if the rows weren't too high. You can also pick up very cheap small square balers but having owned many "good" square balers I can tell you they can coax a cuss outa the best of us! Of coarse people knowing how to store loose hay adds a very useful depth through redundancy to agriculture; and seriously I can only support such a notion!

-- Ross (amulet@istar.ca), February 18, 2002.

Oscar,(or anyone) would you explain what "tedding" to condition the hay is? I've never heard that term before. Thanks.

-- Thumper/inOKC (slrldr@yahoo.com), February 18, 2002.

This is in response to the question about tedding and conditioning.

Conditioning is essentially the crushing of the stems of the grass or legume to facilitate the bleeding of sap and thereby speed up the drying process. Conditioners also tend to remove some of the wax on the outside of the plant...again speeding up evaporative loss and drying. In the early days of conditioning, there were separate machines that you would run over the field that would pick up the swath, kind of squeeze it between a couple of fluted rollers and then put it back out in the same width swath. Sometimes these machines would turn the swath over too. These days most mowers also have some built in mechanism to condition. This is not true for sickle mowers althugh some mower-conditioners utilize a sickle bar for the cutting.

Tedding is even older than conditioning I believe and involves any of a number of ways of stirring up or fluffing the swath to facilitate the drying. Some of the older horse and tractor drawn tredders look like a pair of wheels with a dozen or so little two prong forks hanging down between them. The forks just shuffle back and forth as you turn the wheels...thus stirring the swath. Modern tedders look kind of like those two or three brush floor scrubbers on wheels. They stir the swath using pto power.

There are also swath turners that flip the swath over which is not as "violent" as tedding and reputedly aids drying with less leaf loss which is especialy useful with later cutting alfalfa, particularly where the swath is quite heavy.

In areas of high humidity it can be difficult to get the hay dry enough to bale it. In Ohio, our hay is down for three days usually before baling and it is mowed with a mower/conditioner. People who ted will often bale a day or a half day earlier than we will. In the Dakota's, where we usually don't even have a dew during hay season, we lay it down unconditioned in the AM, rake it the next afternoon or earlier and start baling that night. Often we can bale all night without picking up any moisture. I kind of like night baling because you are in your own little sphere of light and it is cooler.

In a nutshell.


-- Oscar H. Will III (owill@mail.whittier.edu), February 18, 2002.

In areas with good rainfall or deep winter snows, I would be careful planning on keeping loose stacked hay for more than a couple of months. It might work, but I think it works a lot better in low-humidity, low rainfall areas. Just something to consider, as we gather info from the entire globe - weather conditions make a _big_ difference in making & storing hay.


-- paul (ramblerplm@hotmail.com), February 18, 2002.

A farmer mowed a couple acres for us. We let it dry a few days then raked it into rows. We then drove our pickup out and loaded it loose in the back. Hauled it to the pallets unloaded and when finished covered it with a tarp. In a barn would be better. We have even loaded it onto a tarp and dragged it with a riding mower to the piles. A LOT OF WORK!!! But it saved us some money and was better than what a lot of people here bale!! I have watched fields get rained on after cutting dry for a week and then bale. Yuck! They even cut just before it rains! Don't they watch the weather report?? It's a lot of work but can be done! I have found everything in bales! Cans,bags, trash, weeds of all kinds. Good Luck!!

-- PJC (zpjc5_@hotmail.com), February 19, 2002.

I have a friend who lives here in Buxton who cuts his field with a riding lawn mower. He made a rake which he attaches to the riding mower to rake the hay first one way, then the other which in essence does the conditioning that people were talking about above. He had BEAUTIFUL hay out of that field which he raised veal on. Because he kept the field cut short, every cutting was an early cut (cut while the grass was young and tender and full of nutrients). He would store his inside his barn, so I have no answers for you concerning storage. You may want to consider getting round bales as another option. You can get good second-cut round bales for $40 most years and first cut for $25-30. If you have quite a few animals, I'd recommend making or buying a round bale feeder. If you only have a few animals, I'd recommend storing the open bale under cover, and unwrapping and feeding off what they eat daily to prevent them from wasting so much. I used to work at a farm where we fed round bales, and we stored them under plastic tarps quite successfully, feeding that hay to a wide variety of animals. Good luck with whatever you decide!

-- Sheryl in ME (radams@sacoriver.net), February 20, 2002.

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