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  #1  
Old 10/08/07, 09:49 AM
Wife, mom and doula
 
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Cutting hay by hand?

Hope to get some sage wisdom here...

Our 20 acres is divided into about 5 acres for house, barn, etc. with about 15 in pasture and some woodlot. Pasture area is divided into 3 pastures. The loweset one is a bit swampy and has some clover but is mostly canary grass. We just moved here 2 months ago but the previous owners said the yield in hay from that pasture was 13 tons. The problem is, they cut it a bit late and it looked overripe. I asked about it and a neighbor said it's so wet in that pasture that you have to wait til it dries a bit to take the equipment down and cut and bale, then by that time, it's overripe.

So, my question is, what if I cut it by hand (scythe) and stored it loose? We have a large covered hay barn that is just basically a metal roof with posts. Does anyone have experience with this?

I'm also considering improving that pasture by overseeding with clover or some other legume to get better quality hay next time. Thoughts on that?

We'll have (God willing) 2 cow/calf pairs and one horse by this time next year to feed. We currently have 2 goats( will increase as of March or so) and a mess of poultry.

My goal is to use a rotational grazing system eventually.

Sorry the post is so long but thanks inadvance for the advice!

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  #2  
Old 10/08/07, 10:02 AM
keep it simple and honest
 
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I have a friend that cuts his hay with a sickle bar on a BCS. It is a walk behind and may not be too heavy for the field, and you could do it now, depending on how wet it is.

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  #3  
Old 10/08/07, 10:05 AM
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I have a sythe that I use for weeds...I think it would work with some practice and lots of stamina.

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  #4  
Old 10/08/07, 11:20 AM
 
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I have canary grass is a couple of wet muck areas.
A good canary grass sod will support a light farm tractor regardless of how wet the ground is. If canary grass isn't mowed when it is around knee high long before seed heads form it is no good for hay. Here in zone 5 the first cutting comes in early June or late May. If it is cut then, another cutting can be taken off in about 6 weeks. If it gets a seed head on it nothing will eat it.
It makes decent pasture if you put enough stock on it to keep it down, or clip it when it gets up about a foot tall. It comes up in the spring before most other grasses. It will carry 3 large cows per acre. Ground that is wet part of the year won't grow legumes. I would consider useing ground that is well drained for a legume hay field. Have the soil tested for PH (lime). Legumes reguire a high PH reading. Especially alfalfa.

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  #5  
Old 10/08/07, 11:53 AM
Wife, mom and doula
 
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That is exactly the info I needed, thank you!

What I need to decide is if I'll keep the livestock off it until one or 2 cuttings for hay or just let them graze it...but then I'd have to buy hay.

We're in between zone 4 and 5 and that pasture styed green until late September with no rain to speak of. Could I cut once in June, again in early August then let them in there for fall grazing?

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  #6  
Old 10/08/07, 12:24 PM
 
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Here's a fellow that I know who cuts all his hay by hand and keeps it in stacks.
http://www.mysticprairie.net/
The Austrian style scythe seems to make a big difference when cutting.

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  #7  
Old 10/08/07, 01:26 PM
Wife, mom and doula
 
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What do you think about overseeding that pasture with clover to improve it?

Also, it has a small (maybe 10' across) dug pond in there. I was thinking of enlarging it, putting in a liner and using it to water livestock while in there. Trying to decide if it's worth the effort if it'll only have animals in there fall-winter.

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  #8  
Old 10/08/07, 01:33 PM
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I scythed a big swathe of weedy junky stuff this summer with a metal-handled, Austrian-blade scythe. Keep 'er sharp and learn the proper scything motion and you can do it. It's a great way to build muscle tone.

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  #9  
Old 10/08/07, 01:38 PM
Grass farmer
 
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We have a similar problem with a reed canary hay field that is next to a large swamp. It is dry enough to graze in the spring, but too wet to cut for hay until July. I would suggest grazing in the spring as long as there is no danger of pugging the pasture, and taking later growth for hay. This way it will stay in the vegetative growth phase and still make good forage later in the year. If it does get out of control it still makes decent dry cow hay and bedding. the stuff we cut is 5 feet tall before we can get it baled. the cows still eat 70% of it and the rest which is mostly stems is bedding to keep them dry and out of the mud.
We have had some luck over seeding clover into the reed canary sod, try to seed as soon after you cut it for hay and drag it real good to get good seed/soil contact. Then keep it grazed or cut it for hay to limit the competition for sunlight.
We graze 40 ewes, 6 cow/calf pairs and 25 meat goats on 20 acres of mostly reed canary, so it is a very productive and profitable grass, it just needs to be managed properly.

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  #10  
Old 10/08/07, 01:48 PM
Wife, mom and doula
 
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It was really tall in there when we moved in (5' or so) so we bartered with the neighbors, who have pasture raised limosin cattle, to let them loose in there for 30 days in exchange for some beef. There were 21 pair in there and they did an admirable job of cutting it down.

Because we're starting with a small # of livestck, I like the idea of spring grazing then cutting later. At what point would I need to pull them out and give it enough time to grow enough for some stockpiled hay? The most that would be in there next year would be 2 cow/calf pairs, 5 or 6 goats and probably some chicken tractor housed poultry.

I like the idea of the scythe because I don't need haying equipment and I wouldn't need to pay the local guy to cut it with his haying equipment either.

Not sure the best way to rotate grazing with so much pasture and so few animals. I'm sure we'll build up to a few more but are likely not going to have a lot.

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  #11  
Old 10/08/07, 03:09 PM
 
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The only good place for a sythe is hanging in that back yard tree. If you have over an acre of Canary grass, you can start cutting the first of May, and still be doing the first cutting after the fourth of July. That's if you work at least 10 hours a day and don't stop for rain. If you plan on making your own hay you need a mower with a motor on it. Hiring a neighbor to mow it is a very prudent move. Just carrying 13 tons of hay to the shed is a humongus undertaking. Don't worry about the stock you will have making any difference in the field of hay. Just leave them in it.

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  #12  
Old 10/08/07, 03:40 PM
Wife, mom and doula
 
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So, the advice would be to leave the livestock in there(except the day it's being cut) and hire the neighbor to cut and bale hay in the pasture before it's knee high (or before seed heads are on it). I know for a bit extra, he'll drive it up to the barn for us to unload up there. Not sure exactly his fee but I've heard he'll take about a third of the hay in payment.

And, if I'm hearing correctly, as long as the canary sod is well established(which it is!) it can take equipment on it even if it's wet. Can the equipment take it, is the question, I guess.

If I overseed with clover in the fall (frost seding), do I need to keep the animals out of it then?

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  #13  
Old 10/08/07, 04:52 PM
 
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I scythed some nice lawn a couple of years ago. Lots of clover. Wouldn't dry. Gave up on turning the lawn into hay.

When you make your first cutting, judge how good the hay is, not how tall it is. If you cut a little sooner than your neighbors, you will have a nice cutting. Most people let the hay get taller to get more, but then it's stemmy. If you cut before it gets stemmy, it will be real nice. I would not have the livestock on it until after you cut it. Since you will be rotating, keep them in one small area and cut the rest, then rotate them onto the rest of the pasture. You can judge when to cut next and work your livestock rotation to fit that schedule. Fifteen acres is a lot of pasture for two cow/calf pairs and a horse and couple of goats. You will probably not need all fifteen acres if you rotate, in which case you can work out a biyearly schedule.

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  #14  
Old 10/08/07, 09:49 PM
 
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In my climate, clovers & legumes don't grow well in low wet spots, and the type of grass you have _does_ so would choke out what little comes up anyhow. Things may be different in _your_ climate tho, there is no nation-wide advise that works for hay, everything is regional based on local plants & climate & soil.

Low wet spots tend to be natually fertile, and don't need the added N of a legume so much anyhow. If you are seeing a crimsom or red clover, know that this stuff tends to reseed itself, & does a several year cycle where you don't seeit, or see a lot of it, kinda randomly. No need to try to interupt that with more seed of your own. Again, that is how it is 'here', our climates are very different.

If you try planting some, I'd look to types that do better in wet areas - bird's foot trefoil 'here', and certain of the clovers. (These wetter types tend to stay smaller or grow slower 'here'.)

I doubt you will try cutting the hay more than one year by hand. That is a _lot_ of work.

A problem you might not have considered - hay needs to be dry to bale or pile. You likely will need to wait until the ground is dry enough to carry a tractor anyhow, before the hay will cure enough to keep. You cannot put up damp or even half-dried hay in a pile.

A typical deal for custom baling hay was always 50-50 split 'here'. Of late I hear the land owner gets a bit less even, as the cost of fuel & twine keeps going up radically. If you are finding a 2/3 deal for you, jump all over that.....

You do not want livestock on the field for 30 days or so before cutting it. The cowpies (or whateverpies) make a mess of the hay; can spread disease; and make a mess of the machinery if you use a tractor/mower/rake/baler. Frankly I try to keep the critters off anything I want to bale for the whole winter/spring.

You can put them in right after baling to 'clean up' the edges, missed hay, etc.

I would expect you could put 5-10 head per acre on your ground for 30 days, & during peak growing season the grass would be trimmed down nicely but not overgrazed. Of course this would not work all year long. But, be prepared to get way more hay during the peak growing time than what your few critters can consume. I think you will end up with a cutting, maybe 2, off of 10 acres every year.

I think you live in a state like mine, be careful what you do with a 'grassy, wet' plot of land. The state will think they own that wetland, and you have to follow real strict rules of what you can do with it. Other than pay taxes on it.

--->Paul

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  #15  
Old 10/08/07, 11:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doulanobles
Hope to get some sage wisdom here...

Our 20 acres is divided into about 5 acres for house, barn, etc. with about 15 in pasture and some woodlot. Pasture area is divided into 3 pastures. The loweset one is a bit swampy and has some clover but is mostly canary grass. We just moved here 2 months ago but the previous owners said the yield in hay from that pasture was 13 tons. The problem is, they cut it a bit late and it looked overripe. I asked about it and a neighbor said it's so wet in that pasture that you have to wait til it dries a bit to take the equipment down and cut and bale, then by that time, it's overripe.

So, my question is, what if I cut it by hand (scythe) and stored it loose? We have a large covered hay barn that is just basically a metal roof with posts. Does anyone have experience with this?

I'm also considering improving that pasture by overseeding with clover or some other legume to get better quality hay next time. Thoughts on that?

We'll have (God willing) 2 cow/calf pairs and one horse by this time next year to feed. We currently have 2 goats( will increase as of March or so) and a mess of poultry.

My goal is to use a rotational grazing system eventually.

Sorry the post is so long but thanks inadvance for the advice!
We started with a field of weeds. We overseeded clover, alfalfa, and timothy. DH cuts the hay with a scythe. He also hand bales it.
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  #16  
Old 02/04/08, 01:19 AM
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Interesting... how do you hand bale hay?

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  #17  
Old 02/04/08, 04:51 AM
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Are there Amish in your area? Since you want a horse anyway, look around for one trained to pull and then for an old horse-drawn scythe-bar mower. You can also purchase horse-drawn windrowers. If you windrow correctly a horse-drawn wagon can be pulled between. One drives and one on each side fork it into bed. Having a fourth person there to pack it down means more hay per load.

At the barn put down a bottom layer of used pallots. Fork on the hay loosely (don't compact - let it settle on its own). A little often is much better than a lot at once.

As long as the hay was allowed to dry in the field properly there should be little heat or mold generated in the pile.

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  #18  
Old 02/04/08, 08:06 AM
 
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Here's a site with info on cutting hay by hand, and storing it in stacks:
http://www.mysticprairie.net/
The important thing is a good scythe, fitted to the person using it, kept sharp, and used right.

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  #19  
Old 02/04/08, 09:42 AM
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We have a good scythe and I have cut hay with it, mostly for "soiling," taking the fresh hay and dumping it over the fence into the pasture for immediate use. You want to use hay fresh or dry, never in between, especially since some kinds of clover can be poisonous (coumarins) when wilted. You will be limited to some extent by how much you can cut, or rather how much you can sheaf and drag. Cutting is easy with a sharp blade. Moving it is hard.

Also, walk down your area before you cut: debris like big rocks or deadwood can ruin your blade. Use a scythe with a curved handle. If you use one with a straight handle, it will be slow and you will hurt afterwards. Be careful storing your scythe because you do not want to dull your blade and you do not want it to fall and lop off someone's head. Even if you have a tractor, a scythe can be a great tool for hard to get areas.

For drying, I have seen references to hay racks that get put out in the pasture. The hay gets stacked on the rack leaving a cavity inside and you leave an opening on the bottom for air to get in. Check it occasionally to make sure it is drying through and rotate it with a fork if necessary, then store in your hay loft. You can probably find pictures of the racks somewhere if you dig.

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  #20  
Old 02/04/08, 09:56 AM
 
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doulanobles,

I'm south of you about 60 miles. I have some reed canary grass pasture that I usually cut for hay. I graze it until mid May and then take the cows off of it and cut for hay when it gets tall enough. I can generally set it back four weeks so that ground can dry up enough to get a tractor on it.

Bobg

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