Hay Issue for 2007

Note: Much of the southeast has been hit with drought. At the time of this writing, our area is 17 inches below normal in rainfall. Pastures all around us, along with hay fields, have dried up. People are being encouraged to cull hard – sell excess livestock – because they may not have the ability to feed this winter. Most are already feeding hay – in the middle of summer.

We have been in goats for eight plus years now. We have never had a problem with hay until last year. I like to have about 550 small square bales for winter feeding. We have used fescue, alfalfa and some Bermuda hay in the past. Around the middle of summer, we were hit with a drought that continued all fall and much of the winter. Our source for small bales of alfalfa has almost dried up. Last year we only were able to get about 225 bales, and it was not as good as we wanted. We purchased two giant square bales of alfalfa from a local dairy farmer (900 and 1200 lbs); this was great stuff. The goats loved it.

With Pat’s parents aging and finally deciding to sell some of the cattle, we were able to claim a 10-acre hay field this year. It has always been used to support her dad’s cows with big round bales. But this year, he told us we could have the hay.

Our first though was getting it ready for good hay for the goats. We had the soil tested and determined it need fertilized. After consulting with the local extension agent and our local Co-Op, we decided for the goats we need to over-seed the fescue field with lespedeza, red clover, and white clover. We contracted with the Co-Op for the fertilize and over-seeding in March of ‘07. With a little rain, the seeds grew and it was beginning to be time for the first cutting of hay.

After looking for a square baler, a friend’s father-in-law found one. We made a deal with Brandon – if he could get the baler and provide some of the labor, we would give him half the hay. We waited for his father-in-law to buy the baler and it to become available to us, but someone else purchased it. So, we started pricing new square balers, called numerous folks who had advertised balers, and visited the local farm implement stores for a used baler but found nothing in our price range.

About five years ago, we were doing hay for Pat’s parents and noticed that her uncle had a rake he wasn’t using. We asked about purchasing it, but it was not for sale. We stored the information. Pat’s mother had mentioned the same uncle used to square bale “for the public” with a baler that had been “rode hard and put away wet.” Lots of bales. We stored that information too.

Since it was time to cut and bale hay, we contacted her uncle’s daughter (Janis Doss) and asked if we could borrow the baler, a 1968 (or earlier) version of a McCormick-International Harvester baler. Janis graciously agreed. When we picked it up, we asked, “How long do you think it has been since your dad baled with it?” Janis said that it had been only a couple of years. Her dad has been dead over two years, and he had limited capability for several years before that. We were not discouraged. We brought it to our farm to check it out.

No one we had talked to knew the first thing about a square baler, much less how to get it ready to bale. I talked to the folks out our Co-Op and found out that the big deal about a square baler was the knotter and needles. Would have been nice to know what a needle was. We blew the dust (and there was plenty of it) off the baler. Our fear was that the dust might be the only thing holding it together. The tires, after being pumped up, held air; this was a good start. We determined it probably needed greased. A friend who works with Pat stated if we found fifty grease fittings, we had probably only found half of them. With grease gun in hand, I started greasing every fitting I could find. I raised doors, hoods, opened doors, felt through holes, and think I have found a lot of fittings.

We checked the twine, and it looked new. After a lot of looking, we finally figured out what the needles were and how to “thread” them. We went on eBay and purchased a user manual for a square baler, not the same baler as we had, but a similar one. Unfortunately the manual didn’t arrive until after we needed it.

We moved the tractor and baler to a shade tree, along with a couple bales of last year’s hay and began our test. Would it bale? I threaded the twine through the needles and tied it off as advised. I started the tractor and engaged the baler. It made noise and stuff moved and shook and appeared to be working. We cut the twine on our old bales and started feeding hay into the old baler. The pickup worked, the auger moved the hay to the bale maker slot, the ram pushed the hay back toward the tie mechanism, and finally the time had come for the baler to tie. The twine broke. We stopped the baler and the tractor and climbed back under the baler to re-thread the needles. This process was repeated a number of times, probably 10 to 20 times. Finally we got things to go better. At least it started tying knots almost every other time on one side or the other. Progress!

Pat’s father was pushing to get the hay cut, so on Monday morning, I picked up the tractor and mower and began cutting the 10 acre hay field. I had planned to cut about half of the field but after the first half went so well, I decided to cut it all. I decided that the worst that could happen is we would have to round bale it.

Hay on the ground, on Tuesday, I raked about half the field, to get it ready for baling. I had just finished the raking when Pat got home for work. We decided it was time to find out if the baler is going to work. The hay felt dry, so we started the tractor, engaged the baler and started toward the first wind-row. At a nice and slow speed with the tractor RPMs up, hay began entering the baler. I moved down the wind-row, the first bale fell out the back, only one string tied. I stopped, re-threaded the baler and started again. The second bale fell out; the other side tied. I re-threaded the baler. This continued for several more bales, and finally Pat and I needed to have a talk.

We moved the baler over to the shade and tried to figure out what our problem was. At about the same time, we both blurted out that it might be the twine. She said she remembered her dad always starting the new hay year with new twine in the balers. I remembered a friend talking about old twine was not good, even though it looked good. This twine looked really good, but it had been in the baler for over five year, or maybe more. We quit for the day. I went to the Co-Op the next morning and bought a bundle of twine.

With the new twine, I treaded the needles and started the baler. With an audience of Pat’s mother and father, along with a cousin, I started down a wind-row. With the crowd (of 3) cheering me on (while saying to each other, “This is never going to work”), the first hay that was already in the baler fell off (not tied) and finally the first bale fell of the end of the baler chamber, both side tied. A success!! I almost fell off the tractor when I saw I had a tied bale. I continued down the wind-row and the next bale failed to tie but then, 10 or 15 in a row tied. Success, the goats were going to have square bales of fescue, clover, and lespedeza. I continued down several wind rows and determined there was going to be more hay than I thought I needed in square bales.

So I asked Pat’s father if he would go ahead and start rolling. Oh, I forgot to mention that he had his tractor and big roller just waiting for the square baler to fail. As I continued to make little bales, Pat’s cousin and mother began hauling hay to the barn. 174 bales in the barn – some in the storage barn across the creek and some in our barn. For the first cutting, that was about all we wanted. Pat’s father got 12 big round bales.

Two days later, we got a call from Pat’s cousin wanting to know if we could come out to his place and square bale some hay for him. I loaded up and move the 10 or so mile to his hay field and baled 200 bales for him. On the way back to our farm, I returned the baler to it owner and made an offer to purchase the baler. Not for sale… Oh, well. They did add that any time we want to borrow it just come get it. What a deal!

The drought hit, no rain. With forage getting low, we allowed the goats to graze the hay field. Nothing was growing, but the goats had access to some good browse on the creek bank and woods next to the creek. They found the clover, lespedeza, and fescue. They ate well, and their normal summer paddock was able to recover. When a little rain finally fell, we noticed the hay field was beginning to grow; so the goats were restricted to their old paddock. They broke out a couple of times before I finally found the last hole in the fence and the were again restricted to their paddock. The hay field is growing and in early August we will cut and bale more hay. Maybe we’ll get enough to get us through the winter and maybe a little to sell.

We will still buy some alfalfa hay and maybe a little Bermuda, but we now had the capability to put our fescue-mixed hay in the barn. The goats will have hay this winter even if the drought continues.

Ken and Pat Motes
Clear Creek Farms
33 South Clear Creek Road
Fall River, Tennessee 38468
Phone: (931) 852-2167
Fax: (931) 852-2168

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