Not So Good Hay

We had a wet summer. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and certainly don’t complain about rain in the summer…but Geez! We were two months late getting first cutting hay out. The alfalfa was all stemmy and went to seed.

We didn’t cut until July. Even then it got rolled it up wet. It must have rained every three days…not a way to cure hay. You reach a point where the future hay is negatively impacted by not cutting the old stuff. We were there. We had to get that stuff out so we could grow better next time. So my cousin cut and took his share.

30 bales of stems that were fat and woody and had fallen over onto the ground with new growth coming out of them. Awful stuff. Not a single bale I can feed to a cow out of the first cutting. But at least it didn’t burn up. I saw these at a friend’s house recently. He’s lucky it didn’t catch fire. Some years ago my cousin had sudangrass where he later planted the alfalfa field. There are still three or four black bales at the south edge of my property entirely blackened. It happens.


What in there would catch fire you ask? Well, you have a wet mass of organic material. Biology begins to work. Life creates warmth. Respiration. Reproduction. Growth. Waste. Cellular Mitosis. The bale in this case is little more than a big compost pile wrapped in plastic netting. That can burn. So can a compost pile. So can a pile of wood chips.

Half of my bales are only good for compost. So that’s what we’ll do with them. I’ll gather up the feedlot manure and make a lasagna with alfalfa hay and feedlot and bedding. Then we’ll spread that on the fields. The alfalfa all went to seed so that will be nice.

The other half of my bales? Well…not so good. But not so bad. I just have to play it by ear and let the cows make bedding out of the bad stuff. Or let the chickens scratch through it. Sometimes the center of the bale is moldy but usually it’s just the outer 6-8″. I stand the bale on end and peel off the outer layers. See this smoke?


That’s not smoke. It’s mold spore. That first 30 bales I was talking about earlier all sprouted mushrooms last summer.

Compost is the only solution. I can’t even use it for pig bedding as it would make them sick.

It’s hard to put up a good round bale in wet weather. Most of our small square bales are excellent though…this year anyway. Squares are easier to evaluate. You know what they should weigh as you lift them by hand. You can dig into the pile and feel for warmth or moisture or you can tear a bale apart and inspect it easily and you can move it by hand. It’s hard to move a round bale by hand. Even just the center of one.



At this point I’m tending to unroll a bale down the hill and just let the cows pick through it, making bedding of what they don’t want. Dad and I have some concerns about how long a thick mat of hay will persist on the ground but we’ll just have to play it by ear. Hopefully the chickens can scratch it out and the worms will decompose it.

I don’t have any advice here. More than half of my hay is worthless. It’s hard to put up good hay, especially early in the season. I would prefer to just buy it in but hay quality is a concern there too. Maybe dad will weigh in with some ideas for how to ensure hay quality. Hopefully dad and I will have a better hay year in 2015, but still moist.

11 thoughts on “Not So Good Hay

  1. Wow. You’re not kidding about poor hay. Welcome to the world of making hay on Vancouver Island. The summer you described is typical May/June for us. We ALWAYS have that three day pattern in those month, sometimes into early July. And then it doesn’t rain for the next three months. Seems like, anyway. First cut hay is never good locally. People with cows around here have mostly gone to haylage (or baylage, depending where you live, as far as I can tell it’s the same stuff). Wrapped bales. Fermented. In NZ at least, they’re feeding that out – you can see the bales prepositioned around paddocks so that come winter all the farmer will need to do is take the plastic off, the bale is already in the right place. Personally, I need small square bales – I wouldn’t be able to move anything else.

  2. I’m farming a little south of in in western washington, and we have the same basic issues with haying weather. We need 5 to 7 days of clear and sunny and warm, and we don’t get that consistenly until july. But the grass is ready to be cut in april or early may.

    The solution that most farmers in this area, particularly those feeding cows, is to cut and round-bale and then wrap silage. If you can dry it it’s better, but you can bale it wet in 2,000lb bales and then feed those as you would the fresh grass. Tightly wrapped to exclude oxygen the bale will ferment, and cows actually prefer fermented grass to dry hay. Mine do, anyway.

    If you baled it wet it was heavy to begin with. Just add a bale wrapper to the mix and you’re all set. Weather-proof haying.

    • Thanks. That’s a good suggestion for wet years. We get 4 or 5 cuttings each year here so we may have one bad cutting early but the rest turn out fine. Last summer was exceptional.

      I do want to learn more about making silage with forages, though I’m reluctant to grow corn. My mentor, Steve, grows non-GMO corn every year. This year he wrapped corn silage and his cows are doing great. So many options.

    • Yeah, exactly what the cattle people here are doing. My reply kind of implied that the squares were being wrapped – nope. Big round plastic wrapped bales. Look like giant marshmallows dotted around.big paddocks, or stacked up on one side. And I too have heard they prefer the fermented hay. Sweeter maybe?

    • Can I ask what kind of equipment you need to do the round bale wrapping to create this- it is haylage? Do you wrap and leave the bales on the field for later feeding there, or bring them all up to a central location and have one big wrapping over a line of bales? I see something like this being done with sileage on the ground around here at the big dairies, but the fermented hay is intriguing. Thanks!

      • You guys are giving me homework. I can tell you all about throwing corn silage into a silo and how to unload it and stuff. Haylage? I’ve seen it done…as I’m driving past. But it’s something I have been putting off…

  3. Do you wear a dust mask when working with the moldy bales or are you tempting Farmer’s Lung on top of your allergies? 😦

    I pre-place all my round bales for the entire winter and come spring end up with some thick mat areas of the outer crust the horses prefer to use as their B&B – bed and bathroom in this case! I live in a dif climate than you so in the snow covered dormant mths no problem but once the snow melts and growing season starts, if I don’t have the thick mats harrowed within at most about 5 wks in cool springs, I am harming and/or killing my grasses smothered under with no daylight. I don’t have chickens or Dung beetles to help with this task.

    What happens to your Dung beetles in your winter are they hibernating or still at work?

  4. We only have enough cleared land for pasturing our small goat herd here in Eastern Ontario and have to buy in hay each year. This year we probably suffered from the same weather pattern you’re describing and got our usual 1/2 of our requirement from a very late 1st cut and it was pretty woody by the time it came in. We only got 1/2 of the rest of what we needed because of the relentless rain in the later summer and fall and had to scramble to find enough to get us through. Not as many people doing small squares anymore and most had their own needs to fulfill. We now have a hodge-podge of bails, many of which our picky herd (they’re goats, after all) simply rip apart and drop on the ground. Three years ago it was drought, then two years of cold weather and too much rain. Seems there’s no such thing as normal anymore.

    • You should check your perception of normal. Read what Henderson had to say about making hay nearly 100 years ago. In fact, any of the old farming books talk about odd years in quick succession. I think there was even something in Arator about that…but I would have to check.

      Small squares are, I think, the way to go. Until you carry them across ice and snow or until a portion of the barn loft collapses under their weight. Then it’s all a nuisance. Not that the cows say thanks.

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