Hay is the oldest form of conserved feed.  But you need to be careful before you part with your money, especially if you are buying when there is a shortage.

Good things about hay

  • All livestock like hay – they’ll even eat a large part of poor-quality hay.
  • It’s good for their digestive systems because of its high fibre content.
  • It can help prevent bloat.
  • It is easy to transport and feed out.
  • It’s easy to buy and sell.
  • It’s easy to make in small quantities.
  • It’s usually easy to make in summer.
  • Conventional small bales are easy to weigh.

Poor things about hay

  • It’s very variable in quality depending on the original crop.
  • You lose about 80% of the original nutrients in the crop.
  • Its quality is very dependent on the weather.
  • It needs to be protected from rain.
  • It can be full of poor grasses and weeds.
  • It can be a source of moulds (animal and human health risk).
  • It can burn.

Key points about haymaking

  • Select a paddock with a good crop in it.  This means a good 70% ryegrass and 30% clover mixture.
  • Make sure there are no major weeds in it like ragwort, thistles and docks.
  • Do something about removing these weeds early on and long before cutting.
  • Cut at the 15-20% seed head stage and no later, to get the best balance between quantity and quality.  There should still be a lot of green leaf in the crop.
  • Pasture is usually cut at 75-85% moisture and is baled at 16-25% moisture.
  • Don’t leave it till it is “dead on its feet” when all the feed value will be gone.
  • After cutting have it “conditioned” to spread it out and speed even drying.
  • Be wary of patches of green grass that have not been exposed to the sun because of poor turning.  They will mould and rot in the bales.
  • Bale as soon as it is evenly dry and put into storage.
  • If you think it’s “on the green side” leave some ventilation gaps between bales in the shed or stack.
  • Check it for excess heating after putting it in the shed or stack.

Bale sizes

Small conventional bales are best for small farmers, as they are easy to handle and feed out.  They generally weigh about 25kg. You may have to face the prospect of a contractor offering either large round bales or large square bales that can be either 10-bale equivalent or 12-bale equivalent.  This is a very variable definition.  Big bales are now becoming the norm as they reduce the costs of baling and string.  Contractors will easily put these in your shed with their equipment but you will have the problem of feeding them out. The big squares will be easier as you will be able to cut the strings and pull off sections of the bale, but there is no way you will be able to do this with a round bale as these will have to be unwound.  Avoid round bales where possible, as they are hard to stack in the shed and can roll on top of people.

Points when buying hay

  • Open a bale and see what’s inside.
  • Good hay is a nice green colour and sweet smelling.
  • Check for ryegrass seed heads and clover with leaves still on it.
  • Watch out for dead Yorkshire Fog and Browntop – grasses with poor feed value.
  • Avoid hay with docks, thistles and ragwort.  Dead ragwort can still poison stock.
  • Avoid mouldy dusty hay with a musty smell.
  • Weigh a few bales if they are conventional sizes.
  • Check the age of the hay.  If it’s old (and the bales light and strings lose), the quality will usually have deteriorated.