Farmers work tirelessly throughout the spring and summer to grow, cut, and store hay to feed their livestock throughout the year. But how exactly is the hay created?
Haymaking is a process – and it all starts with sunshine and warm weather. abc27 Chief Meteorologist and resident farmer Eric Finkenbinder goes through the process every year.
“Making hay” is a term used by farmers to describe the process in which quality grasses and legumes are cut, dried, baled, and stored for feed later in the year.
It’s a complicated process to making the hay – and it starts with two to three consecutive days of sunshine. Add in low humidity and temperatures near or above 80 degrees to allow for drier grass, and the haymaking begins. These conditions generally begin to develop in mid-May and continue into June in the Midstate.
Once farmers have these conditions, they begin to cut down the hay using a haybine or a discbine. This machine acts as a mower and conditioner for the hay. Rotating cutting blades cut the hay just above the ground, and then the hay is pulled into a roller-crimper which helps dry it out. When the hay exits the crimper, the stem is pressed or bent, which allows the moisture or sap to evaporate from the inside of the stem.
After the crimper, it’s onto the drying process. Some farmers can choose to speed the drying process up by using a tedder. This machine spreads the crop over the field, which increases the surface area of the hay to allow better drying. The machine also lifts the hay to allow dry air to circulate between the crop and the ground.
Once the crop is dry, it is then gathered into rows. This is done with a hay rake. The main purpose of the hay rake is to collect the hay and allow the baling process to begin. The hay rake also helps to continue the drying process as it fluffs and aerates the hay.
After the raking is done, the hay is ready to be baled. Hay is best when it has 20 percent moisture or less. Bales can be made into different shapes and sizes. A baler will pick up the hay as it goes along and continuously roll the crop inside of the chamber using rubber belts. When the bale has reached the desired size, it’s wrapped with a thin plastic netting to keep the bale from falling apart. The bale is then ejected from the chamber and the process of making another bale begins.
Farmers use the hay to feed their animals year-round. It is stored in a barn and sometimes under a tarp during the cold winter months.