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Making hay with hay racks  RSS feed

 
r ranson
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In The Scything Handbook, Ian Miller has a chapter on making hay using hay racks.  I think this is a fantastic idea and I'm keen to try it on my farm.



With a hay rack, you can make small amounts of hay at one time (or large if you like), which allows you to harvest the grasses at the peak moment.  More importantly, it's not as weather dependent as modern day mechanical hay making.  It only involves two steps (cutting and stacking) instead of several (cut, ted, windrow, ted, ted, windrow, rain, more tedding... ).  It also reduces the loss of nutrients that happen every time the hay is worked. 

Cutting the hay when it's at it's best, reducing nutrient loss when drying and curing hay - this means that the animals get more nutrition from their feed and we need less feed for them. 

A couple of sites I found with some great pictures of hay making using scythes and hay racks.

Hand Hay Making at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust


Making Hay on Fairy Hill Farm


It looks like there are a lot of different ways to use hay racks.  Some people cure the hay before racking, others go straight on the rack to cure and dry.  What's more, there are lots of different styles of hay racks.
Anyone here used a hay rack before? 
 
Tracy Wandling
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I love this concept. I plan on growing grains for my chickens and was considering leaving the grains on the stalks, and just drying the whole thing. That way I can use it as bedding and feed, which would then become mulch/compost for the garden. This would be a great way to dry and store it, I think.

Do you think it would work with the grains left on the stalks?
 
Travis Johnson
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Honestly, I think agriculture is about to make a resurgence in loose hay.

I could be wrong, as I often am in life, but considering the cost of equipment, the time factor, the changing weather patterns where getting in 4 good days of weather to put up hay, and people with physical time restraints themselves (working full time jobs off farm); can there be another answer then change? Let me put it this way, $18,000 for a USED haybaler? $36,000 for a new baler. $30,000 for a new mowing machine. $4500 for a tedding machine? You get the idea. Then what about the land itself...finely manicured fields with nary a bump or rock in them? They come at a premium and that is hardly farming that will last for centuries.

There has got to be a better way!

And yet there is no better feed then hay...and this is a confession coming from a farmer who feeds corn silage and grass silage to my sheep. I say again, hay is the ideal feed for ruminant animals.

So if what I say is true, that there must be a better way, and hay is the answer, ultimately it comes down to a better way to produce it. I think hay bales were the answer for the time. They compressed hay, made them compact, and fit into buildings nicely. But now that convenience has come at equipment with too high of prices. Time to rethink the plan. The biggest change is not the way loose hay is made, but how it is stored. Years ago it was done inside massively framed barns, but today we have plastic. I just checked out FarmTek and for what it would cost you to buy a new baler, you could tarp a loose mound of hay 100 feet wide and 300 feet long and 50 feet tall....that is a lot of hay, and the material is guaranteed for 5 years. You are NOT going to get that with a hay baler I assure you.

So I see it being inevitable that we revert to loose hay again. On bigger scales I see it being mechanized, but definitely a resurgence in loose hay. I am racking my brain out now how to do it on my farm. I just abslutely refuse to buy a $30,000 baler.
 
jared strand
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I think I may like this idea.
 
Isa Delahunt
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There are some intermediate ways to do hay, still using a tractor if you have one.  I have a complex trade with a neighbor more fortunate in the equipment department than I, and we figured out how to use a silage chopper to do loose hay with almost all machinery.  He mows it first with a regular tractor drawn mower (I think), then after it drys, then he blows it into a dumping wagon with the chopper, stopping to jump on it and pack the load down.  It comes to my place, and we dump/slide it out in one big loaf of hay onto pallets on the ground.  It's about 1200-1500# per loaf, it just fits onto six pallets laid two across.  There is a bit of judgement required as far as avoiding really heavy grass at the edges of the field, but it sure beats raking it up and loading it into and out of the truck by hand with a hay fork! 

Once all the hay loaves are in place, I cover the whole thing with a couple layers of tarps.   If it's an exceptionally wet winter sometimes I get a little mold right on the top, or I might need to lay some scrap lumber across to keep water from pooling in the tarps, but I generally have very few keeping problems.  Using it is a little trickier than normal hay because it's pretty short, so hard to fork.  I either use a wheelbarrow or drag a big pile of it around on a piece of old tarp.  Here in the maritime Northwest, haying is quite tricky, and one big advantage of this way to do it is there is a quick turnaround from the time when the hay is perfectly dry to when it's picked up and stored dry.  Moving that much hay by hand takes a long time--I've lost a lot of hay because I couldn't get it picked up fast enough by hand. 

Not to say that scything and the like isn't good too, but it's hard to get enough hay put up if you're talking in terms of farm quantities (tons).  I do nettle hay with scythe and racks, which is a specialty thing, and well worth it for the nutritive value.  Hay is sort of like feeding gold boullion here on our tiny non-ferry served island, where everything is super expensive to bring on from somewhere else, and an 80lb bale of  grass hay can easily cost 40$ or more by the time it lands in my barn.  Much better to limit the hay you need to put up by rotational grazing and improving pasture and forage, and growing fodder crops like mangels and kale to feed in winter, but there are always a few months where some hay is needed, no matter what. 
 
Roger Rhodes
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There's just something about the look of stacked, loose hay.
 
Isa Delahunt
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3.3-4.4#/cu ft loose hay, in a normally tromped down stack, in case anyone needs to calculate. 
 
r ranson
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one big advantage of this way to do it is there is a quick turnaround from the time when the hay is perfectly dry to when it's picked up and stored dry.  Moving that much hay by hand takes a long time--I've lost a lot of hay because I couldn't get it picked up fast enough by hand.  


From what I understand, hay racks prevent this from being a problem. 

Drying and curing hay on the ground (like with a tractor) means that the hay collection is weather dependent.  If it rains, or heavy dew, then the hay needs to be worked more.  Each time it's worked, nutrition is lost, which means the animals need more hay.

Drying on a rack, means that the hay can withstand some rain and other weather that would damage tractor made hay.  It wouldn't have such a small window of perfection for bringing in the hay.


I think hay racks fit well with permaculture.  One of the things in permaculture is to take advantage of microclimates.  Around here, the farmers have limited access to the haying machinery, so they do the entire field at once... but if you ask them, they will say that only about a quarter of the field was ready for haying, the rest was too young or too old.  I can see using hay racks on my property to harvest the grasses at their perfect moment.  I suspect, on a moderate sized farm, it would take approximately the same amount of man-hours to harvest hay by hand using a hay rack and to process it by tractor - only the hay harvested by hand would have higher nutritional value.  I would love the opportunity to put this idea to the test.

 
r ranson
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Much better to limit the hay you need to put up by rotational grazing and improving pasture and forage, and growing fodder crops like mangels and kale to feed in winter, but there are always a few months where some hay is needed, no matter what. 


Sounds like great inspiration for a new thread

For this thread, let's try to keep it hay rack focused.  It sounds like you have experience hand gathering.  Have you used the rack yet?
 
Ian Miller
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Making hay with scythe and racks means that you don't need a huge herd of whatever livestock to provide an income to make loan payments because you didn't stick a bunch of capital into equipment.

Using racks means you can make hay high-quality hay almost independent of the weather. Because of this, you can make hay little by little, almost every day, and thus never have to deal with huge quantities at once. Slowly this easily adds up to the amount of hay you need to bring a house cow or a small herd of dairy sheep or goats through the winter. One cow or, say, three dairy goats will give you more than enough milk for you and your family and you can sell the rest. Their annual offspring can be raised for meat.

Or maybe a friend of yours has enough land for pasture for a small herd of sheep and you have enough land to make the hay they'd need to get through winter.

When huge capital outlays and loans are out of the picture, the risk level is low and suddenly a lot more is possible than you had imagined from your land.

The basic concept of racks is to get cut grass up off the ground to separate it from rising damp, maximally expose it to drying winds and minimally expose it to rain via rain-shedding caps. There are many different designs, several of which are described in my book. Some of them require that you do an initial tedding before racking. Some of them allow for immediate racking of wet grass. Racks were developed on north-facing rainy slopes in the Alps where haymaking would otherwise be impossible because it would never dry before molding. Racks make haying by hand so much more realistic and ultimately less stressful and labor-intensive.

A bit of a stream-of-consciousness post as I have little time tonight for forum participation! Thanks R for the thread! Free, high-quality hay via racks, made little by little, is what using the scythe is all about, in my opinion!
 
Daniel Schneider
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Hayracks (hässjor) are a major tradition here in Sweden; due to our short growing season, thgere in't time to wait around for a 3-4day stretch of sunny days to begin haying, so we mow in the morning, let the grass lie for a couple of hours, then load up the hässjor in the afternoon. last your a group of us helped a friend who has a mountain farm and, in the week I was there, we put up  30 or so, which is enough for 1 cow over the winter (each hässja holds about 100kg if it's well filled). Over the course of the summer, they try to fill about 300.   They did most of the mowing with a walk-behind hay mower, but used our scythes for the bits around obstacles, and the ground was problemmatic for the machine

here's one ready to have the hay taken in to the barn or haystore
http://www.azote.se/repository/temp/f6e9e3e6h6b9h9e3b3f33f36h6f6f3b3e6f3b3h6f6e3h3h6b3b9/w850/atb_01019.jpg


here's one in the process of buing filled
https://cdn1.cdnme.se/4435958/8-3/03_sa_borjar_hakan_hassja_2015-07-15_55a68c102a6b222489cf2520.jpg
 
Hans Quistorff
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I liked this one from the swedish homestead, The hay was stacked in a huge trailer. I think they make them from old house trailers. Stacked once in the field, pulled to the feeding site and covered with a  truck tarp it becomes the hay barn.  Reduced handling to a minimum with minimum necessary equipment.
 
Travis Johnson
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I am all about that too Hans; a minimal of work, less equipment and no storage facility.

Like others on here, I have concluded that for my farm a flail chopper is probably best. It is one piece of equipment that only costs $18,000 new ($1500 used), only requires a truck or trailer to move, does not require a big tractor, and has no building requirements for storing the feed...just push it into a pile, pack it down, and cover it with weighted plastic...all on the same day. It makes excellent feed and can even process corn too. I like a single machine that has a lot of versatility.

I have done hay by hand when I first started out and only had 4 sheep. I hand made corn silage too and have posted about that experience on here. Surprisingly it made just as good of feed as what our $250,000 combine produced for the big dairy farm, and this was with equipment I had already around the house...stuff everyone has around the house. But I am well beyond 4 sheep now. I could still do loose hay, but aspects of it would have to be mechanized for sure.

The biggest issue I found with hand making hay though, was not in cutting it, but the fatigue in my arms from raking it and piling it up. If I was to mechanize just one thing, it would be that. It was a huge time-suck and wore me out. I have limited hand scythe experience, but my Great-Grandfather would not hire any farm hand who could not cut at least 3 acres per day, while his best farm hand could cut 5 acres per day. Here I average 6.9 bales per acre, and they weigh 600 pounds, so that equates to 4140 pounds of 1st crop hay to the acre. It is easy to see from that what I experienced, cutting 6-10 tons of hay is doable, but hefting it with a pitchfork is another matter.

But that does not means loading hay into trailers or into movable racks cannot be mechanized, here is a video of a guy doing just that with his tractor. Fortunately the mowing machines, tedders, and rakes are all cheap equipment to buy, it is the baler that is expensive. Where I live you can even rent walk-behind sickle bar mowers.

 
Burra Maluca
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I had a horse-drawn hay-rake once.  Great fun, especially with a youngster in training.

 
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