The hay is harvested with a piece of equipment called a "Swather". This is a self-propelled mowing machine with a set of rubber rolls that the hay passes through. This roller crimps the stems at intervals of 2½" - 3" which allows quick evaporation of stem moisture and decreases drying (curing) time. (Remember, the shorter the drying time, the higher the nutritive value of the hay.) The swather then shoots the hay out the back end of the machine in a continuous row called a "windrow".
The curing process is a drying out of the moisture in the hay to 14%. This occurs by a combination of air (wind) and sun. The shorter the cure-time, the less top-bleaching can occur from the sun. This process, if everything is ideal, typically takes 4 days in our fields. Most usually the conditions are less than ideal and the process can take 7 days.
As hay dries in the field, the top of the swath dries more rapidly than the bottom. Hay Turning is a process of flipping the windrow upside down (moving the wetter material to the upper surface) to increase the speed of the drying process and to make the hay uniform in dryness to ensure no slugs (small, wet clumps of twisted hay). This turning process is only done when Mother Nature has provided a less than ideal curing period.
The hay baler is a piece of equipment that picks up the hay and lifts the windrow from the field surface, going next into a compression chamber where the hay is packed and formed into a bale, and a tying mechanism that completes the bale. Typical DM (Dry Matter) losses during hay baling vary between 2% and 5% of the yield, with the loss equally divided between pickup and baler chamber losses.
Pickup loss is highest when the baler is being pulled too fast. Chamber loss is greatly affected by crop moisture content, with drier material having greater loss. When hay is baled at night, leaf moisture is higher, similar to stem moisture, and chamber loss can be cut by 50%. We typically bale hay during the middle of the night when the days become too hot to bale during the daylight hours and achieve the proper moisture percentage. This moisture content, if it can be achieved, allows for a more beautiful and more nicely packed bale that allows for "peeling off" of a flake. If it is not possible to achieve this moisture content during the baling process, the bale, while having the same nutritive value, will fall apart more easily when the strings are cut and will be messier to feed. There is also a greater chance for this "dry matter" loss (shatter quality) to exist in this drier hay. We always strive for this proper moisture content, but sometimes Mother Nature does not consistently provide the right circumstances, so we do the best we can do. We use no drying agents or preservatives on any of our hay.
We produce 2 string bales that typically weigh between 90 and 110 pounds each.
The bales are removed from the field by means of a "Bale Wagon". This machine is self-propelled and picks up the bales on a platform and then through a series of hydraulic maneuvers stacks them on the bed of the wagon. Once the correct number of bales is "on-board", the wagon can be driven to the stacking area at the edge of the field. The wagon can automatically stack the hay by raising the bed of the wagon into an upright position, and driving out from underneath the "stack" while hydraulic "feet" push against the stack, holding it in place.