Numbering the Days of Hay

3 days of work.  15 days of fear.  3 months of worry.  9 months of hoping we have enough stored up.  18 months of hay available at any given time…drought could strike any day now.  Each dry cow needs 25-30 pounds of hay each day to maintain weight in the winter.  Each bale weighs 40-50 pounds.  If I have 10 cows and feed for 120 days (Jan 1 – April 1) I need at least 600 bales to see me through…if they don’t waste any hay.  These are the hay numbers…and I want to believe our days of numbering hay are numbered.

In my last post I talked about how proud I am of my son.  At age 12 he’s eager and able to work.  It’s not just that he has a desire to please me, he sees the value of what we are doing and recognizes that I’m just not healthy enough to put up hay.  And, yes, I equate bad allergies to poor health.  That’s a topic for another day.

My son knocked it out of the park.  I may start referring to him as “Buck”.  He’s 12.  Nearly 6′ tall.  Lifts bales with apparent ease.  How did I get such a son?  With a son like that my allergies are not a factor. Why wouldn’t I want to put up hay (even if he has to re-stack the wagon while I’m eating mulberries)?


Because I am not rich.  Like you, I need the maximum return on my investment.  Like everyone else, I need to make the best use I can of my time.  For example, if I wanted to replace the after-tax income from my day job I would need around 8,000 laying hens.  Then I could spend my whole day washing eggs, grinding feed, moving fence, shooting predators and praying…PRAYING that I’m able to sell all 400 dozen eggs I’m going to collect that day with a minimum of deliveries all to places that buy by the case (so I can re-use the cases to save money).  Let’s compare that to my current job.

I began my day today by making sure my SQL agent jobs were all successful.  Then I verified the status of my weekend backups.  After that I ran a report on the progress of a long-running data migration.  A new employee showed up and we showed him around.  Then I ate a bagel.  Then I took a quick break to deliver eggs to co-workers.  Then there was an ongoing issue with SharePoint backups (you know how those can be) trying to tame our growing transaction logs…an ongoing maintenance issue.  I spent the rest of the morning and a large portion of the afternoon writing the outline for a series of classes I intend to teach on indexing; clustered vs. non-clustered indexes, filtered indexes, indexed views (did you know the first index on a view has to be clustered?  That fact really wows the crowds!).  Finally, toward the end of the day, I needed to truncate and repopulate a set of tables for end-of-month reporting.  An exciting day!  I mean, did you truncate tables today?  I did.

I have a head full of very specific training – so much so I have a hard time breaking down what I do for a living without resorting to jargon.  How can I tell my kids what I do?  “Well, guys, I’m a database administrator.  I make sure electronic file cabinets are sorted.”  Meaningless.  It would be so much easier to tell them I’m a chicken farmer but my skill set solves several problems for our family, even if they don’t understand what I do.  First, it solves my allergy issue.  I can sit in the air conditioning all day resting my body, working my mind…even if I have to rely on farm work to retain my sanity.  Second, it really helps with the whole money issue…you know…eating food, paying for the farm, buying my wife pretty dresses.  Finally, it saves us from having to sell 400 dozen eggs every day.

All of that to say, at this point, it’s not a good decision from a financial, nor from a health perspective for me to ride or even drive the hay wagon.   Heck, just the labor expense of maintaining and running the equipment may force my hand on this issue.  I would be better off to buy in my hay instead of maintaining a tractor, baler, rake, mower and wagons just for that one purpose (26 tires on all that equipment!).  Instead of that, I should manage my fescue stockpile to minimize my own need for hay and, instead, deploy that capital toward appreciating assets.  Again, not putting up hay means I’m dedicating more time to selling things my farm produces, not producing something my farm consumes, feeding it in a feedlot and hauling manure later (more time).

Gabe Brown keeps cattle in North Dakota.  When I heard him speak he talked about planting cover crops to use as winter forage.  48″ snows were not a problem for him.  Low temperatures were not a problem.  The cattle walked a mile or more every other day to get water.  No problem.  He just kept moving the fence a little at a time to give them access to more of the stockpile.

Jim Gerrish wrote a whole book on the topic.  In Kick the Hay Habit Gerrish details how expensive hay is, how much better off the cows are if you let them harvest their own feed and how practical it is for almost all of North America.  He guesses that farmers continue to put up hay because it’s “just what you are supposed to do”…and because they like to…even if it is not in the best interest of their wallet.

Greg Judy suggests keeping 30 days of hay purchased in case of an ice storm that the cows can’t graze through.  Julius Ruechel, Gordon Hazard, Cody Holmes…I could keep listing authors/ranchers who agree.  OK, maybe not Joel Salatin.  Or even my friend Matron of Husbandry.

I’m not presenting a case against hay.  I’m presenting a case for why I believe our days of baling hay are numbered.  For now, though, we have fully-depreciated, functional equipment, we enjoy haying (allergies aside) and it’s just what you are supposed to do.  So we’ll probably keep it up for a while.  Long enough to build strength and character in my sons anyway.

11 thoughts on “Numbering the Days of Hay

  1. No wonder they call it hay fever 😉 It’s a conundrum for sure, buying hay is certainly a better use of your dollars and time. Interesting note: one of my cow class attendees mentioned that he went to a Gerrish seminar and he said everyone can get the hay out of their operation except the little slice of land called Cascadia in western Washington and Oregon. Here it’s not the cold, it’s the rain and mud. I’m happy to have cut my hay making in half, but I don’t see ever going without hay and buying here either puts you in the $250 a ton range for eastern Oregon hay 100 miles one-way away, or $150 (in the field) local crappy grass hay. We can still put good hay in the barn much cheaper than that with our paid for equipment. If we had buy new equipment or had hay fever, this whole comment would be different.

    • Well, not to mention the rain ruins the quality of your standing forage. I think we’re several years away from it as I have to get better at grazing and I have to build my pastures. Something to shoot for.

  2. Don’t discount the value of your girls. They can drive the tractors. I don’t advocate for women doing heavy lifting, yes, I know they carry babies around. Babies seldom start out weighing more than 10 pounds and are walking on their own before they weigh 50 pounds – even counting car seats and diaper bags. Girls enjoy berry picking, too – so get them involved. Now the cost of putting up your own hay is the same as gardening. It is a renewable resource, it is probably no cheaper than buying it at the store, but you know what is in it and the quality. Allergies: wear a mask, drive the tractor, work where you are out of the dust as much as possible and talk to your Dr. Not every allergy pill out there will turn you into a zombie. Besides: you could buy a round baler. How long would it take to pay for one, discount the cost of allergy pills, time spent putting up hay and wear and tear on your nerves? Anyway, driving over the hay field gives you valuable time to check out the pasture and adjoining acreages and well as the fences.

    • Careful with the accusations there, mom. You have painted a picture that suggests I believe girls should be in the kitchen taking care of children. I can’t allow that to stand. If the girls were interested they would be on the wagon. I do a pretty good job of keeping my kids around me whatever the task. However, boys and girls alike choose their level of involvement in difficult farm work. The whole family picked berries down there the following Sunday, neck deep in poison ivy. Daughter #1 stuck with it while the other three ran off to explore in the woods.

      Really pencil out what it costs us to put up a bale of hay. Dad broke a tooth on your mower/conditioner. Dad raked the alfalfa twice, dealing with a leaky tire on the rake. We thought we broke the JD baler. We wrestled with the red baler while watching a rain storm kick up out of nowhere. We have a flat tire on a hay wagon. We still haven’t put the hay in the barn. How many hours would a round-baler really save? We would have total control over hay quality if we just bought it. Wouldn’t need the mower. Wouldn’t need a rake. Wouldn’t need a baler. Wouldn’t need a tractor. On top of that, we could graze more animals by reclaiming that hay ground as pasture. With less equipment we would need fewer sheds…like the machine shed I still haven’t repaired from snow damage.

      Your suggestion is to get a mask and a pill so I can just do it. My suggestion is to get more cows (increasing revenue), sell some iron (fewer repair bills and depreciating assets) and make better use of our time and money by letting farming out our hay work.

      We get a good look at the pastures as we move the cows each day and as we walk the whole pasture at least weekly all without compacting the soil. I know. You don’t understand the daily cow move thing either.

      You are right about garden veggies being higher quality. That’s why the ideal is no hay at all but, again, I have total control over the quality of food I buy.

  3. The allergies are tough. You’re smart to be thinking how to make things work to minimize their effect on you. Glad your eldest is such a big help. Gotta say, I’m with caretaker on the girls; don’t leave their potential out of your thinking. I was helping with the hay from the age of 9 on – sometimes driving the pick up (in bottom gear, standing up to reach the gas pedal) in slow circles so my Dad could throw bales in the back, and as I got older, I was the designated stacker (probably what made me good at Tetris later), both on the truck and in the loft. I never got to drive machinery, because that was hired out to a contractor (still is), but it’s very common here for wives and older girls to drive the tractor for tedding or raking particularly (I’m not sure why not the baler or mower – maybe because they break down more?). That said, I’m sure there’s plenty of work around the place that the younger ones all handle while you’re out in the hay field. Being physically strong and able to do field work in uncomfortable conditions undoubtedly fitted me for my first career (the Navy), better than my university degree.

    It’s pretty cool that as you improve at grazing, and as your pasture improves, hay making requirements will change. I have a similar climate/ecosystem to Matron, and heavy animals really can’t be on the ground here through the winter – it’s not cold, but the ground is just so wet. Hay is pretty much a necessity through the months when they have to be kept off the fields.

    • Again, not neglecting the girls in work or in play. Let me say that again…not neglecting. Further, I’m not neglecting my younger son. This post featured one of my children. One of the four. That doesn’t mean I love him the most. I’m just surprised at how big he has gotten.

      Not neglecting my wife. Not neglecting my dog. Not neglecting the mail carrier. Not neglecting the sacrifices made by Mrs. Frank in third grade to teach me Spencerian script even though I only print. Just bragging on one of my kids who achieved, from my perspective, a major milestone.

      • Yeah, sorry…realized I’d gotten the wrong end of the stick there after your other reply. You are justly proud of your eldest for his work with the hay. And he’s already 6’2″ – holy moly. I seem to remember he did you proud last year about this time too.
        As a matter of fact, after I’d clicked “post comment” in my first response, it occurred to me that neither of my girls does much of the harder outdoor work. Unless they’re paid. And even then, some nagging is involved. They both choose housework over digging, weeding, fence mending, building repair, mucking out, etc. So I was throwing rocks from my glass house. Mea culpa.

        And your breakdown of the real cost of making hay vs buying it in is very interesting.

        • Thanks. For the first 3 years the oldest daughter wanted to stay inside and “keep house” while we butchered birds. No problem. She washed dishes, made lunch and baked pies, sometimes with help from my mom who also has no interest in killing chickens. They just have to be productive during work time. Inside or outside, we all pitch in. I do have to make it a point to give each of them daddy time.

          Oh, and he’s not 6’2″. But he’s just about 6′. He’s going to be a giant. The way he’s eating and growing though…

  4. Big brother carries a heavy load both literally and figuratively. I have been up there enough when neither you nor Farm School Marm are there to know he normally does his work with a very good attitude and willingness. You have a right to be very proud of him. Let me also say each of the kids share well with each other and do their chores with a good attitude. I’m a very proud Granna.

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