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How do you make quality hay?

Consistency. Pay very close attention to EVERY detail. Yesterday, we were using a micrometer to make sure the clutches on our balers were adjusted correctly. For those that don't know, a micrometer measures accurately to 0.001 inches (one thousandth), ten times smaller than a human hair. Of all of the details that are scrutinized, the most important occur during harvest. Here are a few that are most critical:

- Alfalfa hay is best baled at 11% to 13% moisture content. This keeps leaves attached to the stem, while preventing any molding. Sensors are mounted where bales are exiting the baler and are monitored constantly by the operators in the cab.

- Rows of hay dry unevenly. It is possible to have 5% moisture on top and over 30% moisture on bottom. This is especially true if harvest occurs soon after irrigating. Ground moisture will prevent hay from drying out on the bottom, while the top is getting cooked by the sun. Waiting too long after irrigating to begin harvesting will stress the grasses and they will not recover quickly once harvest is complete and irrigation water returns.

- Hay that is cut and not collected will return. During the harvesting process, any piece of grass that was cut but not collected will show up in the next cutting as dead/brown spots. Bits of hay blown by the wind, little strips that are missed by the rake, or hay that falls in a rut are examples of these.

Hay out of the rut.

This picture shows a portion of the end-row, where the swather cut hay that ended up in the center-pivot rut. Hay that isn't removed from the ruts can be damaged by the center pivot, and might not get picked up by the hay rake.

Hay in the rut

The solution is to remove the hay from the rut by hand with a pitch fork. Ten ruts, two ends, that is 20 ruts to clear. Tedious? Yes. Necessary for making high quality hay, consistently? Definitely.

There are many other examples that make it possible to produce a consistently quality product. Remembering everything during harvest time takes focus and commitment to a strong work ethic. I am impressed everyday by my teacher and father-in-law, who has kept this level of effort and dedication strong for 50 years. I am so blessed to have a way of life that keeps me out doors, engaged, challenged, appreciative, and humbled. I thank the Lord each day, and usually send up a few requests for things that are just completely out of my hands, having faith that if He sees fit, it will be done.

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