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Haying methods? Buy it? Bale it?

 
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Looking for opinions and experiences on how to handle cattle feeding during winter. South Central Missouri climate is my context but any advice welcome. Main concern is freezing rain and freeze-thaw in late winter and early spring that can cause fields to become muddy mess. Equipment is not an issue. Currently, no livestock on the farm; working on a proper plan before bringing them in.

I'm familiar with mob grazing and the works of Greg Judy. I know he purchases hay from outside producers, essentially bringing their fertility into his farm. I appreciate how he has been rejuvenating his landscapes and it has almost convinced me to switch over to working with hay contractors rather than do it myself.

However, I am also familiar with Joel Salatin's method of baling, feeding in barns and then spreading bedding packs as compost on fields. I've also seen people switch what field they cut, then pasture and feed hay at on that field later that season or the next season to return fertility without bringing in outside fertility.

Please let me know your experience with these methods or feel free to fill me in on what you personally do on your farm/homestead.
 
master pollinator
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I buy most if my hay. I do harvest some of my own.  On 11 acres, I really dont have a lot of space to grow hay.  Then again, my needs are limited.  I do buy all my straw.  The used bedding makes it's way to my raised beds in the fall.  Wasted hay ends up in the compost bins. Depending upon the weather, it takes a year or 2 to break down.
 
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Location: Dry mountains Eastern WA
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It would be helpful to know how much acreage you currently have and how many cows you intend to have.  Do you intend to just raise steers or Raise pairs?
 
Anthony Copeland
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Janet Reed wrote:It would be helpful to know how much acreage you currently have and how many cows you intend to have.  Do you intend to just raise steers or Raise pairs?



90ish acres of grass. More than likely run cow-calf pairs, keeping back own heifers and selling steers as yearlings. Would eventually like to grass finish certain steers.
 
pollinator
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It depends... what is hat worth where you live?

In my area, there are a LOT of horses. More than any other livestock.

This eats up a lot of potentially arable land, generally not managed in a way that provides much if any feed for the horses.

So they are generally eating bought hay. Enough that hay is trucked from well over 1000km away, plus a ferry ride..

So, hay is quite a bit more expensive than it would be in more sparsely horsified areas, relative to local hay production.


Land is very expensive too... but if you have the land, this can tilt the economics in favor of baling your own.

If I lived somewhere that hay was cheaper locally it would be pretty to justify all the equipment costs to bale my own... not that I have bought it yet.
 
Janet Reed
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Okay..90 acres.

I think it all comes down to math.  I don’t know what your initial investments will be so here’s how I figured it.

I bought 1 mother cow..pregnant by a great bull and I bought a young bull non related to mama for future use and started from there. That was my cow investment.

I found out how much hay cost per ton and how many ton it would take to feed my current herd for winter and added a month of hay to be sure.  If I ran out the price of hay in January would be higher and I didn’t want that.

Alternately I found out how many cuttings of hay I could get on my land per year and what equipment I would need to process that hay.  A tractor, a swather, a baler. And, what would I do for pasture if I cut my hay.  You may have a different ecosystem but if I pasture an acre here I can’t hay it or vice versa.

That’s how I figured whether to make hay or buy hay.

I had a cow investment, and a hay investment OR a cow investment and a haying equipment investment; I had to balance those costs with what I could sell my cows for either as finished meat, babies, steers etc.

I bought hay, grew cow calf pairs, held steers over and finished them on grass. Sold the steers as grass fed to people or my local butcher.  Sold some heifers.

I used my accountant to figure my expenses which were ALOT as I had then become a farm. The deductions were nice.

I never came out ahead.  I was just too small.  But!  I ate some great beef and truly enjoyed the whole thing for years.






 
steward
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Hi Anthony, welcome to Permies!

I'm in my first year of having cows and being a grazier and this will be my first winter coming up. My neighbor is in the hay business, cutting his own hayfields to sell and also doing custom work for others. He told me he sprays his hayfields (hurray honesty and transparency!) and one of those sprays he uses is an aminopyralid (I would be unable to use my cows manure in my compost or garden as aminopyralids kills most green things that aren't grasses and can take up to 7 years to break down), so I did not want to buy his hay and instead I hired him to cut hay on my farm which is free of any chemicals. I am running my farm beyond organic standards and having hay that I know is free of poison residues is important to me. If clean hay is important to you, I believe anybody selling hay that knows how it was grown will be up front and honest if you ask questions.

As far as managing the cows, I'm going to try stockpiling (leaving fall grass uncut for late season/winter grazing) and see how far that takes me. When I do start feeding hay (I don't have a hay barn or any barn), I am undecided if I want to designate a sacrificial paddock for them to over winter in which I will need to tend to come spring, or try to keep them on rotation which is what I've been doing all season to try and minimize soil pugging and muddiness, and feed hay all over the farm.

Hope this helps!
 
gardener
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What James said. Very hard to source organic or no-spray hay, so if you hay it yourself, you know exactly what the inputs are. Crap shoot otherwise.

The other crapshoot is getting the neighbor to cut your hay when it needs to be cut. My experience is there are literally thousands of reasons why that won’t happen. That means weeds get a foothold, nutritional value goes down, and so on.

If equipment is not an issue, I would say cut it yourself and maintain control.  Equipment is darn pricey tho.
 
Anthony Copeland
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James, great point about the hay being applicated with pesticides. Not my biggest worry but I can see why the concern is there. I think a majority of people around me only spot spray hay and pasture but unfortunately people have been mixing Grazon in their pasture fertilizer mixes lately. The clover and birdsfoot trefoil has thus been in decline. So the hay might not be as clean as I think.
 
Anthony Copeland
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John F Dean wrote:I buy most if my hay. I do harvest some of my own.  On 11 acres, I really dont have a lot of space to grow hay.  Then again, my needs are limited.  I do buy all my straw.  The used bedding makes it's way to my raised beds in the fall.  Wasted hay ends up in the compost bins. Depending upon the weather, it takes a year or 2 to break down.



We buy it as well, don't have enough ground to produce it ourselves. Started using straw with cardboard on our garden this year. Either going to transition to low-till or raised beds within next two years. Another topic for another time :)
 
Anthony Copeland
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Artie Scott wrote:What James said. Very hard to source organic or no-spray hay, so if you hay it yourself, you know exactly what the inputs are. Crap shoot otherwise.

The other crapshoot is getting the neighbor to cut your hay when it needs to be cut. My experience is there are literally thousands of reasons why that won’t happen. That means weeds get a foothold, nutritional value goes down, and so on.

If equipment is not an issue, I would say cut it yourself and maintain control.  Equipment is darn pricey tho.



Artie, weeds are an issue, snakeroot mainly. Plus there's been several years were our first cut wasn't put up until almost July, leaving cows with overly mature hay full of seed heads loaded with endophyte and weeds  (Missouri weather is atrocious). We have some older equipment, however; one tractor is in need of engine and hydraulic pump rebuild while other needs a new clutch. Haybine, Tedder, rake and baler are good (knock on wood). Usually think haying ourselves isn't costing too much until another repair bill comes up.

And you said it perfectly for custom baling. A lot easier said than done. You're usually first on their list in May then August rolls around and the first cut is laying rank in the field still. No offense to custom balers though, been on a hay crew a few times in my day.
 
Anthony Copeland
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Janet Reed wrote:Okay..90 acres.

I think it all comes down to math.  I don’t know what your initial investments will be so here’s how I figured it.



I've done several estimates on what 25-30 South Poll cattle would cost hay wise for 4-5 months of winter feeding. Usually purchasing the hay came out cheaper but it was hard to account for the time spent finding a supplier in a drought or wet spring.

I don't want to sell weaned calves but will probably have to until I can figure out better marketing options for my area. Grass fed is still somewhat of a dirty word around my parts. I would love to sell grass finished beef eventually. One step at a time though. Thank you for the thought out post.
 
gardener
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Buying hay is no different than buying food for yourself and your household.  In the same way you should be thoughtful about where your human food comes from and only purchase from reputable sources, so also, you can be reasonably sure that you are getting non-sprayed hay and fodder for your cattle if you carefully purchase from people you know and have an established relationship with.  Once you've established a credible source, and you've built a solid relationship with that seller, life is easy.

Buying fertility off of someone else's land and bringing that carbon and fertility back to your land ---- that's a no-brainer.  Selling hay off your land is a way to make a quick buck, but you're selling your fertility to someone else.  If someone else wants to mine their soil and sell you their hay, by all means, do it.  Live cattle sell for about $1 a pound.  A fully mature grass-fed live steer ready for slaughter weighs about 1200 lbs.

Round bale: $100,( although Greg Judy, also from your region, often talks about buying $40 hay baies).  Mature steer: $1200.  A round bale weighs between 1000 and 1200 lbs.  A steer will eat about 24# a day -- so a round bale will feed a steer for 50 days, or $2 a day.  They'll gain about 2# a day -- it's a break even venture -- $2 of feed converts to $2 of beef.  But you get the fertility for free, and that'll grow more forage for you next year.

11 acres should be able to support 5 - 7 cow/calf pairs if you manage your grazing well.  If you need to feed them for 2 months with purchased hay, that would be about $1000 worth of hay.  Worth it, in my opinion.
 
Anthony Copeland
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D Nikolls wrote:It depends... what is hat worth where you live?

In my area, there are a LOT of horses. More than any other livestock.



I was a part of a hay crew for a friend that primarily served horse owners. What they would pay for feed! You usually don't have to compete so much with horse owners normally, however a drought year usually brought stiff competition. Which usually stung hard when the hay available was 95%pigweed and 5% grass.
 
Anthony Copeland
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Marco Banks wrote:Buying hay is no different than buying food for yourself and your household.  In the same way you should be thoughtful about where your human food comes from and only purchase from reputable sources, so also, you can be reasonably sure that you are getting non-sprayed hay and fodder for your cattle if you carefully purchase from people you know and have an established relationship with.  Once you've established a credible source, and you've built a solid relationship with that seller, life is easy.

Buying fertility off of someone else's land and bringing that carbon and fertility back to your land ---- that's a no-brainer.  Selling hay off your land is a way to make a quick buck, but you're selling your fertility to someone else.  If someone else wants to mine their soil and sell you their hay, by all means, do it.  Live cattle sell for about $1 a pound.  A fully mature grass-fed live steer ready for slaughter weighs about 1200 lbs.



My thoughts exactly. If someone is thinking there selling hay at a profit, I think I'll be happy putting their fertility on my farm. And around me, I don't think anyone ships out of state. So in all honestly, fertility might leave the property, but it isn't going to far down the road.
 
pollinator
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Good discussion.

My area isn't good for hay - late spring rains push harvest dates past the optimal time. Cows don't care about rain.  I'm also close enough to some world-class hay growing areas so its easy to get good hay.  My hay grower doesn't use herbicides - they're signs of poor management and an unnecessary expense.  He also seems to mostly sell to cattle & dairy operations, not horses, and that seems to make a difference  (we don't eat the horses here).  Lots of my neighbors grow and cut hay - I think horses eat it, my cows just look at, look at me and their eyes say "We'd rather eat dirt" and they walk away.

So growing hay really isn't an option.

I looked into making haylage - it doesn't require dry conditions and the fermentation of it seems to make otherwise less delectable bits into something tasty.  But ouch, its so expensive to get the equipment.  I think it was at least $30k and someone else told me it was closer to $80k.  That's a LOT of purchased hay, especially since I'm a really small scale.  Even buying haylage instead of hay is a problem because the bales are 1,000 lbs or more and I can't move them with my current equipment.  And there's all the plastic...






 
D Nikolls
pollinator
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Eliot Mason wrote:Good discussion.

My area isn't good for hay - late spring rains push harvest dates past the optimal time. Cows don't care about rain.  I'm also close enough to some world-class hay growing areas so its easy to get good hay.  My hay grower doesn't use herbicides - they're signs of poor management and an unnecessary expense.  He also seems to mostly sell to cattle & dairy operations, not horses, and that seems to make a difference  (we don't eat the horses here).  Lots of my neighbors grow and cut hay - I think horses eat it, my cows just look at, look at me and their eyes say "We'd rather eat dirt" and they walk away.

So growing hay really isn't an option.

I looked into making haylage - it doesn't require dry conditions and the fermentation of it seems to make otherwise less delectable bits into something tasty.  But ouch, its so expensive to get the equipment.  I think it was at least $30k and someone else told me it was closer to $80k.  That's a LOT of purchased hay, especially since I'm a really small scale.  Even buying haylage instead of hay is a problem because the bales are 1,000 lbs or more and I can't move them with my current equipment.  And there's all the plastic...





All the plastic indeed.. so much. There used to be a way to recycle that stuff around here, it shut down several years ago and now it all goes to the dump... Really unfortunate.

A number of people I know will do all of the haying themselves, with the exception of baling the first cut into round bales. They cut it and row it, and then Jeff comes to bale it with his very fancy gear.

Problem is, there is only one Jeff for a pretty big area. He can't handle demand, and the smaller jobs/fields are the ones that have to wait, or be turned down. And, in a good hay year, Jeff's fee is around half the cost of a bale anyhow...


Buying haylage is awesome, though, assuming a capable tractor... truck rolls, in, bales get stacked in field, done. No barn. No dust. Good shelf life. Just convenient tractor-portable packages, and the gnawing guilt of the terrible piles of plastic, enough to justify a dedicated dumpster even for a small herd.
 
James Freyr
steward
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Artie Scott wrote:

The other crapshoot is getting the neighbor to cut your hay when it needs to be cut. My experience is there are literally thousands of reasons why that won’t happen.



Man this is my story. I'm the new guy in the area and I'm at the bottom of the list for my neighbor who cuts & bales for everyone. My hay didn't get cut until the second week of July. Taking care of long term customers first was only a small part of it. The real reason for the delays was the weather. It always seemed to be raining, or if it stopped long enough for the ground to firm up enough to drive a tractor on, it rained again. My neighbor did his and others first cutting in June when it stopped raining for two weeks, but by this time all the cool season grasses had gone to seed and were brown in the field. We were chatting about it and he said "the weather's getting strange and it used to not be like this", citing how he used to be able to consistently get everyones first cutting done in May.

My hay turned out pretty crappy. It looks decent, and smells good, but I had a forage analysis done just for giggles and to have a benchmark to compare to in the future as I work to improve my soil. Protein is 6.5% and the Total Digestable Nutrition is 54%. Oof.
 
pollinator
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I’ve never owned cattle but have been around them most of my life. Right now I have several older family members who have cut down or completely quit farming cattle. They still harvest the hay in round and square bales and sell what’s not needed.  About the only amendment the fields get is an application of lime or manure in the early spring, so I would feel safe buying hay from them.  We also have a field that we used to let neighbors mow for the hay.  It was always the last to be mowed and generally when it was past it’s prime. We had goats for a few years and asked them to leave enough to feed them during the winter. They left part of a round bale approximately 30” high. That was essentially the end of that agreement.  If I were to need hay for my own use I would buy it as I couldn’t justify the expense of buying the equipment to cut my own and honestly the grass here is poor.  If I were to buy I prefer square bales as I can haul and feed them without needing a tractor.
 
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We are on 8 acres. 1 cow calf pair and 3 sheep.
First yr, the quality of my hay was poor. I bought hay @ 16bux a bale small square bale x 21.

(Improved pasture and rotary grazing same stock: cows, then sheep, then chooks then 6 weeks rest cycle).

I close off 3.5 acres with electric fence. Continue to rotary graze the rest. I take 24 bales out of that. Plenty to feed free hay all winter to same stock. And not a chemical in sight.

Heres the rub. Unless you can bale it yourself, its useless. As no hay maker will visit my small farm when i needed them to. Far more profitable jobs on larger places. My hay was not as good as it could of been had i not had to wait over à week for baler guy to turn up.


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