Well, I feel like an extraordinary couch potato right now.
Look at them go! I love videos like this, where we take a concept that has almost exclusively been done by machine in recent years, and remind ourselves that yes, we can in fact do things like produce hay with nothing but our own muscles and some hand tools.
Back when I started with sheep I did it semi-like this. I did not use a Hand Scythe but used my bushog instead to cut the grass, but everything else I did by hand. It worked incredibly well. Of course back then I only had 4 sheep so that was the reason it worked, and while I quite a few more now, I am still interested in loose hay. With a good used baler costing $18,000, it kind of makes sense for who can pencil out sheep farming with costs like that? With cheap hoop houses now, or simply plastic, housing loose hay would be quick, cheap and easy (unlike that of a haybarn). Even being semi-mechanical, the mowing machine, tedding machine, and rake are the cheap purchases (or make them yourself). It is the baler that costs a lot of money.
Another alternative to expensive haying equipment is to go with grass silage. No week of good weather to make it, no multiple machines to produce it, no big haybarn to store it. Just buy a flail chopper, blow it into a wagon, dump it in a pile, compact it and cover it with plastic sheeting. Young livestock need hay still, but adult livestock thrive on grass and corn silage. I found this out when I had a horse and fed it grass silage/corn silage all winter. It not only got by, the silly thing thrived!
Interestingly enough I also produced corn silage for my sheep by hand. I cut the stalks down with a chainsaw, threw them on a trailer, then chipped them in a 5 hp yard chipper/shredder (though a modified old push lawnmower would work too). This produced silage as good in quality as what our $500,000 combine did. It was not as fast obviously, but the quality was the same. And my sheep; they loved it.
Feeding corn silage to your livestock may seem unpolycultural, but store bought grain is comprised of about 90% corn. Raising your own corn and producing silage, not only reduces your hay consumption needs, it gives you the same benefits as giving them store bought grain...it is why they thrive. My mantra has always been, "Do as much for yourself as you can".
Another thing to keep in mind is, even under organic and grass-fed only rules, a farm with this status is allowed to graze harvested corn fields. It falls under the guise of them eating the stalks, but lets all be honest; everyone knows the livestock thrive because they eat all the corn cobs that fall off as the combine passes over it. You would be surprised how much corn cobs are lost in this manner. In fact it is a great way to get corn free for your animals. Ask a farmer if you can get the lost corn cobs after they have harvested, and they might say yes. Typically I would get a bucketful of pure corn cobs in the bucket of my Kubota tractor per acre. That is a LOT!
My sheep nutritionist suggested a 60% grass silage/40% corn silage mix for ruminants. The ratio is because hay and corn have different attributes. Corn has energy where as hay has protein. Ideally a ruminant animal gets both and as such the ratio is 60% protein and 40% energy. In terms of money, if a farm does not have haying equipment, but has the ability to grow corn, just one acre of corn would save them a lot in hay costs. All a farm would need is a chainsaw (or hand scythe or long handles lopping shears) to cut the stalks down, a trailer (or wheelbarrow) to transport the stalks, and an old push lawn mower. To modify the lawn mower all that is needed is a hole cut in the top of the deck near the tips of the blade. This could be done with an angle grinder and a $2 metal cutting wheel, a cutting torch, or a drill with a 4 inch hole saw. To chip the stalks, simply run the stalk down through the hole and the spinning blade chops the stalk up into edible pieces.
How much would this save? Well an acre of corn yields about 24 tons to the acre on average, so an acre of corn would save a farmer about 1600 square bales. At $4 a bale, that is a savings of $6400. If a farm cannot grow an acre of corn for less than that, something is wrong. You would need about 25 pounds of corn seed ($75), fertilizer ($100), and gas for the lawnmower and chainsaw. ($75). It would take labor to ensure it grows well, but a great way to reduce a farms reliance upon expensive hay that is purchased. ($250 versus $6400)
The whole point here is...people can get creative in how they feed their livestock. Buying expensive equipment because it is typically what is used, does not always make sense. Being creative can save a lot of money and STILL make your livestock thrive.
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