Hay-making for smallholders

The aim is to harvest the crop at the time of its maximum nutrient content, early in the flowering stage.

To be prepared for cold and dry periods, livestock farmers can prepare a sufficient amount of quality animal feed to use when other animal feed products are not available. Hay making is one of several methods for conserving animal feed. Haymaking is possible for smallholder livestock farmers, with or without some form of mechanization. You could either use the hay for your animals or sell it for profit. Hay in the barn is like having money in the bank. This article discusses the steps in hay making, time of harvest, the correct moisture levels, and other important aspects of hay making.

Haymaking is one of several methods used to conserve animal feed. Haymaking is the process of drying fodder so that it can be stored for a long time. The aim is to harvest the crop at the time of its maximum nutrient content, early in the flowering stage. If the harvesting is done too late, the forage is classified as straw. Hay can either be made manually, with simple mechanization like draught animal power or small tractors, or with fully mechanized systems. The critical steps in haymaking are the following: cut, dry, rake, collect, bale and store.

Both grass and legumes are used for haymaking. However, not all grasses and fodder are suitable for haymaking. Legumes like Lucerne (alfalfa), clovers and vetches are ideal for hay making. You can mix legumes with grasses to make better-quality hay. It is essential to avoid forage to which herbicides or pesticides have been recently applied, and you have to look out for toxic plants.

To be prepared for cold and dry periods, livestock farmers can prepare a sufficient amount of quality animal feed to use when other animal feed products are not available. Hay making is one of several methods for conserving animal feed. Haymaking is possible for smallholder livestock farmers, with or without some form of mechanization. You could either use the hay for your animals or sell it for profit. Hay in the barn is like having money in the bank. This article discusses the steps in hay making, time of harvest, the correct moisture levels, and other important aspects of hay making.

Haymaking is one of several methods used to conserve animal feed. Haymaking is the process of drying fodder so that it can be stored for a long time. The aim is to harvest the crop at the time of its maximum nutrient content, early in the flowering stage. If the harvesting is done too late, the forage is classified as straw. Hay can either be made manually, with simple mechanization like draught animal power or small tractors, or with fully mechanized systems. The critical steps in haymaking are the following: cut, dry, rake, collect, bale and store.

Both grass and legumes are used for haymaking. However, not all grasses and fodder are suitable for haymaking. Legumes like Lucerne (alfalfa), clovers and vetches are ideal for hay making. You can mix legumes with grasses to make better-quality hay. It is essential to avoid forage to which herbicides or pesticides have been recently applied, and you have to look out for toxic plants.

Harvesting at the right time is crucial to make the best quality hay, and it is important to get this right. Choosing the right time to harvest is a balancing act between making sure there is sufficient forage growth, that you are not harvesting too late for best quality, and that the weather conditions are dry. Cut too early, when the forage is not very tall, and there will not be a lot of material for haymaking. Hay cut too soon has high moisture content and will not dry quickly. Cut too late, and the quality of the hay will be much lower, and the taste will be reduced. The protein levels will be low, and as the leaves become brittle, there will be more losses.

The forage can be cut either by hand or by machine. There are two basic hand tools: the sickle and the scythe. Sickles are designed for cutting cereals but are poorly adapted to mowing hay. They are very slow and require a lot of work compared to the scythe. Several types of mowing equipment exist that can be pulled behind a tractor.  This includes the sickle-bar mower, the sickle-bar mower-conditioner (also called haybine), which has conditioning rollers that help in the drying of the hay, the disc mower and several other mowers.

If you want to make hay, the moisture content of the forage has to be reduced to 15-20 percent. To achieve this reduction, about two to three days of good weather are needed. Sunshine, wind and low humidity all help with the drying process. The hay should dry as quickly as possible, and ideally it should keep its green colour. If the hay is not dry enough, the hay can heat up during storage, and this will lower the feeding value of the hay (or cause fires).

Storing loose hay takes up quite a lot of space. To assist with this, you can bale the hay, which allows for more hay to be stored in a given area. Baling can be done manually or mechanically. Bales can be made by hand using a simple wooden frame. Mechanical balers are usually pulled by a tractor, with larger balers requiring more powerful tractors. Typically, these balers can make small or large bales and round or square bales. Hay should be stored in a sheltered place, away from direct sunlight and rain. Wet hay can easily develop rot, and adequate ventilation is essential.

Before you feed hay to your animals, it is essential to do a quality check. Never judge the quality by looking just at the outside of a bale or a stack. You will need to break the pile or stack open and look inside. If the hay seems to be stuck together, this means that the hay heated because it was too wet. This hay might have lost quite a few nutrients and is therefore lower-quality hay. Also check for mouldy spots caused by moisture.

Hay made in the correct way is a key feed resource for cold and dry periods for both smallholder and other livestock farmers. The key to quality hay is to ensure that the proper techniques are used, including harvesting at the correct time, ensuring the forage is at the correct moisture level, and that the hay is stored in the correct way.