There is a great temptation for property owners with acreage available, to produce their own hay by knocking down a grass meadow and baling up forage for either their own horses’ needs and/or to market the product.
For horse owners it is wise to know what is growing before you mow. There are an extensive number of nefarious herbs and weeds that can harm horses. Some plants may not be toxic when growing but can become toxic when they dry out. This is in part because a horse grazing a pasture will most likely avoid them, but when dried the plant is harder for the equine to define.
Collaboration with an expert is always a good idea before you either graze horses in a pasture or mow down a meadow for hay. Local extension offices may provide an in person visit from an expert to ‘forage’ your meadow to ascertain any toxic plants and give advice on how to best manage the land for hay.
It may be necessary to start the field afresh with a complete reseed with a grass that will work both in terms of your hay needs nutrition wise and also one that will do well in the soil and climate where you are located.
An inexpensive soil test can point the way in terms of increasing yield and optimize the nutritional benefit of the hay produced from the field. Both organic and chemical fertilizers are expensive, so it is smart to spend the extra time and effort to execute a simple soil test before blindly adding unnecessary products.
Hay produced should be tested to ensure that it is added to the equine menu in the correct balance with other products such as grain, mineral and vitamin supplements. For example in the North East USA soils are notably poor in selenium so an additional source of selenium may be needed to assure the equine nutritional needs are met.
It is not only the content of the forage that is important to consider when it comes to haymaking. It is imperative to consider the slope, drainage and nature of the ground beneath. For example, land with a steep slope will require more horsepower from the tractor and will also be more dangerous to cut.
A heavier tractor may be required to keep the haybine or discbine, and even more particularly a baler with a wagon pulled behind, from pushing the tractor down a hill or causing a loss of control.
Always mow a steep slope up and down and not across for safety and be certain the tractor has the weight to stop a heavily loaded hay wagon and large baler from jackknifing out of line and causing an accident.
If the field is littered with rocks that protrude from the surface, their presence will damage the knives on the cutting equipment, bend tines on the rake/tedder and baler. A discbine is generally considered a better option than a haybine on land that is rocky, though the large cutter bar beneath a discbine can be bent if a large rocky bedrock outcrop is hit.
This is a very expensive repair. Check for the presence of rocks and debris during winter or early Spring and pick rocks up wherever possible before mowing. Consider which type of machine is better for the particular acreage.
Equipment to make hay holds its value well over time but is expensive. Depreciation of the capital expense can help recover some costs through tax benefits for a horse farm business. There are many auction choices and agricultural sales both through dealers and direct from farmers. Used equipment is commonly available. These resources may be a good place to start if you are on a tight budget.
Consider what type of twine you want to use for baling. While sisal twine is user friendly for the handler and better for the environment, mice love it! Polytwine may stand up better to chewing by mice. There is nothing more annoying than stacking a great pile of hay in neat squares and going back a few months later to find every bale has been undone by dastardly mice chewing the strings.
A ‘suitcase’ fix using discarded twine to retie the bale for transport is possible but it is time consuming to do. Metal twine is not suitable for handling directly by hand even with gloves, and require adept use of a hay hook or the bales must be thrown.
Once the meadow is mowed and the hay is properly cured and baled, keeping good quality hay in best condition comes down to how it is stored. Small squares are best stacked with their strings on the vertical side to allow any moisture in the bales to move down the stack.
Stacked hay should be laid in one direction for the first layer with the 2nd layer in the other direction. Alternating the direction of the layers will help keep the stack secure. Pallets and/or a tarp laid under the base of a stack will help prevent moisture rising from the ground entering the stack and damaging the base layer.
Loft space above a barn can be a handy place for hay storage and the use of a conveyor can save a lot of hard labor reaching the 2nd floor. The space should be dry and free of old hay or debris. Even the tiniest of drips from a roof can cause hay to spoil. Ventilation is important too. Store hay with an inch or two between each bale and keep gable vents/soffits clean so air can move freely.
This article on, “The Seven Deadly Sins of Haymaking,” offers some good advice on the topic of how to successfully and safely make and store hay.
From a fire hazard perspective provision of a separate hay storage facility can be a smart move, especially for large quantities of hay. Many horse barn builders are able to facilitate a structure specifically for hay storage. Ensure the entrance doors are high enough to accommodate large equipment and even hay wagons. A suggested height of 16’ to 18’ will work for most operations.
If you opt for a shedrow or low profile barn set up, hay can be stored within an open fronted stall space inside. However, this space is extremely limited so storage elsewhere and a restock of the barn supply is a good option.
As with most new projects in life doing your due diligence before you embark enthusiastically into an unknown business can save much money and heartache in the future.
This article is brought to you courtesy of Horizon Structures Inc., Atglen PA – Modular horse barn specialists. Horizon Structures also offers both residential and commercial kennels, coops, multi-use structures and playsets. Please visit https://www.HorizonStructures.com to learn more.
About Horizon Structures: One horse or twenty, there's one thing all horse owners have in common...the need to provide safe and secure shelter for their equine partners. At Horizon Structures, we combine expert craftsmanship, top-of-the-line materials and smart "horse-friendly" design to create a full line of sheds and barns that any horse owner can feel confident is the right choice for their horses' stabling needs.
All wood. Amish Made. Most of our buildings are shipped 100% pre-built and ready for same-day use. Larger barns are a modular construction and can be ready for your horses in less than a week. All our barn packages include everything you need -
Horizon Structures also sells indoor riding arenas, chicken coops, dog kennels, 1 and 2 car garages, storage sheds and outdoor living structures.
Headquartered in South-Central Pennsylvania, Horizon Structures, LLC is owned by Dave Zook. Dave was raised in the Amish tradition and grew up working in the family-owned shed business. He started Horizon Structures in 2001 in response to an ever-increasing customer demand for high quality, affordable horse barns.
For additional information about the company or their product line, please visit their website at https://www.horizonstructures.com
About Nikki Alvin-Smith: International published writer and creative content producer. Ghostwriting, blog services, PR/Marketing specialist. Nikki also produces catalog and website copy, white papers, e-books, corporate brochures, advertising copy, photography, videography for a wide range of businesses.
As a Brit who has called the America home for the past 35 years, Nikki brings a unique perspective to the equestrian world. Nikki is also an accomplished Grand Prix dressage trainer/competitor, competing at international level and is a highly sought clinician offering clinics worldwide. She has been a horse breeder/importer of warmblood and Iberian breeds for more than 25 years. Together with her husband Paul who is also a Grand Prix trainer, they run Willowview Hill Farm, a private dressage training operation in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York. Please visit https://nikkialvinsmithstudio.com/ to learn more about her affordable services.