I'm about to move onto a 160 acre property. I guestimate that there is about 50 acres in pasture, which the previous owners have been haying each year. Zone 6b, clay soil, decent rainfall.
We are starting small, so for several years I may need to keep those pastures for future use. I was thinking of haying them until I set up animal grazing/food forest/pasture systems on them.
I have my concerns with just taking hay from a field each year without giving something back in return. Any ideas on how to manage hay fields?
I was thinking of only haying half one year, and then the other half the next. but what would that do to the health of the pasture? Airated compost tea would be awesome if the materials were available, but way more work/resources than I can put into it at the moment.
I'm not a hay grower, but as a once upon a time avid hay buyer, the quality of the hay was very important to me. That meant that the hay needed to be harvested at a particular stage of growth. If over mature, it was too low quality to be worth buying and storing. So if you plan to harvest hay, you'll need to learn how to time it. Plus by not cutting it on schedule, the more aggressive (often coarser) grasses and herbs will crowd out the non-vigorous (and often more desirable or nutritious) ones, thus lowing the quality of the hay mix. Therefore allowing a hay field to go unmanaged for a year will degrade the mix and also allow weeds to establish themselves in the field, both of which lower the quality of your harvest. Weedy, overgrown fields do not equal hay. No, it's just baled weeds.
50 acres of hay crop is a lot to handle without commercial fertilizer. Perhaps Adam Klaus could help you with ideas.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
Pastures degrade slowly with haying, and they can bounce back quickly with a little care, like you obviously have. If you take a full crop of hay for the next 2-3 years, you probably won't notice much change at all - it's fine unless you're starting with something very degraded. One thing you can do immediately is to look at your legume mix and see if you want to enhance it: clover, trefoil, alfalfa, vetch - see what does well in your area and think of doing some broadcast seeding.
If a soil test shows some real deficiencies, you might broadcast a little fertilizer at the same time.
Also, if you think you will want a living fence someday, now is the time to plant it thick and heavy!
Haying is exporting fertility. Hay has $25 per ton value purely as fertilizer, compared to chemical fertilizer costs. That is about how much fertility you need to bring back to keep from degrading over time.
Hay can be good money, enough to pay for fences. I don't see a problem doing that for a year or two if they are in good condition.
You can have them mowed, basically chop and drop by machine. There are guys you can hire to do it, they manage CRP ground that way. But you are paying a lot of money to do it.
You can rent it out to graze livestock, but you need fences and water. You can make a deal that the farmer puts in the fences as his payment to you for X years rent. But you need to trust the guy will manage them well because for every Greg Judy there are a hundred that will ruin your pasture.
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If you lease it, make sure the grazier is providing free choice mineral supplements to the animals. That way the animals will rebalance the mineral content for you.
And as an FYI, Greg Judy puts fencing and water up on the land that he leases. But the minimum lease is for 7 years. Otherwise its not worth the trouble and expense to him as lessee.
Depending on where you are at, here are a few linkup sites for land owners and seekers.
Location: Upper Midwest - Third Coast - USDA Zone 6a/b
posted 5 years ago
Some farmers/landowners also simply sell the hay crop. What this means is that you maintain more control over the property but you are selling the forage crop to a local livestock producer or hay jockey. This person is responsible for managing the hay crop by timing the harvest appropriately and having all the equipment in place to correctly mow, rake, ted(optional), bale, and transport the hay. This kind of arrangement may simplify things for you. In this arrangement you aren't dependent upon someone doing a job for you because guys that have hay equipment available for custom hire will be very busy at those critical times when the weather allows hay making. However, if you simply sell the hay crop then the buyer is much more interested in getting the crop out while it is still in premium condition. If the pasture ground is of particularly good quality then chopping the forage into silage may also be an option.
There are some things you could do initially to start building better soil and better forage quality. If the pasture has just been grazed for many years then it is time to reintroduce select forage species. There are many varieties to choose from so I won't make specific recommendations. You will want to select a variety of grasses - some that will perform well in cool seasons and some that will perform well in hot seasons. Next select a few perennial legume species. There are also other perennial and annual species which make excellent forage. Techniques: broadcasting can be effective and relatively easy but requires a higher seeding rate (more $) and germination rate may be lower. Drilling the seed is going to give the best stand possible. You can custom hire this work and it may only need to be completed every few years or every year depending upon needs and management.
We decided to just mow all the fields ourselves this year, not collect the hay, and let everything go back to the soil. We don't know for sure weather or not the pastures have been over harvested by the previous owner. Next year I may get some arrangement where I rotate which fields I let someone pay me to hay, and which ones I return to the soil. Eventually, the whole site will be a dynamic permaculture ecosystem, with alot of silvopasture type systems where the animals will mow the hay for me.
Michael Longfield wrote:We decided to just mow all the fields ourselves this year, not collect the hay, and let everything go back to the soil.
The year we started that, our neighbors could barely keep their opinions to themselves, "wasting" good hay like that. These same neighbors haven't done anything to remineralize the soils they've been renting for decades and it shows. Never mind us crazy folk over here...while my trees are growing 3x as fast as yours...but getting some chickens to work the chop and drop helped even more. Our parcel is way smaller than yours though. How do you feel about foraging birds like chickens or turkeys?
If you just put some cows on there it will be like getting paid to mow, instead of paying for the mowing. All you need is water and a portable electric fence. 30-40 yearling cows/steers 2.5acre paddock will last at least 2 days and at the end of the year if you sell them, you should pocket about $12k, for next to no work or infrastructure costs. Cows are like compost-tea factories + hay mower that churns out money. You could have more cows if you made smaller paddocks and shifted them every day, or twice a day.
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