The Hay Is In!
Hay. It seems simple. Cut it, rake it, bale it and move it up and out of the pasture. Voila! Food for the critters all winter, right? Yeah, not so much. Here at The Old Mason Homestead, we try really hard to be realistic about farming and living a self sustaining lifestyle. It’s hard work! This is our first year processing our own hay and we were starting from scratch so we knew we’d have a heck of a story to tell when it was all said and done. And we do aim to please!
Haying can be especially grueling, if only because of the fact that here on the Oklahoma prairie, hay time comes along right when the sun is attempting to boil any living thing into a hot mess. So as you read about this particular adventure, picture it all happening while the participants are sizzling like bacon in a cast iron skillet. We wanted to cut our own hay for a number of reasons, but the biggies were a) having top quality food for the cattle, b) cost of course, I mean, who wants to pay through the nose for feed if you don’t have to? and c) rehabilitating our fields so that we can implement an intensive grazing program.
It turns out, all hay is not created equal. Who knew? There are thousands of species of grasses and each has its own benefits and downsides. As anyone who knows me personally can attest, I have a relentless “need to know” everything I can on a subject before I start a project. I won’t bore you with the specifics on all the different grasses because frankly, according to my much less curious sister, all that information is just plain mind numbing. We knew going into this grand step in homesteading, that our pastures were not in great shape. It wasn’t until I hopped on my trusty steed (the side by side) and headed out to take a look, that I realized just how bad it was.
The Old Mason & Camo Cowboy think it is okay to commandeer my trusty steed!
Our land had been VERY heavily overgrazed, so it took some doing on my part to figure out how to fix it. But with some time and a lot of effort, we ended up with enough pastures that were actually growing hay we deemed cow worthy. That’s a simplified version, but if you want to delve deeper, shoot me an email. I am happy to share what I have learned.
Before and after pictures. We still have pastures like the first,but it is getting better. We have had to work really hard to get rid of an introduced plant called sirecea, but we are slowly winning.
Now, on to the fun part! We wanted to be able to cut it as cheaply as possible and knew we were investing in the future, so we went on the hunt for equipment. And did we have fun! I love auctions and consider myself a true auction junkie. So this was the obvious choice for us to find just what we needed and still have some hope of staying on budget. Hunting for good deals at an auction should be an Olympic sport. I would be in GOLD city! The key is to be patient and ready to pounce at a moments notice. You also have to be ready to bow out. I had to learn the hard way that if you cant keep your hand out of the air, or your subtle, all knowing nods to yourself you will have a hard time getting good stuff for an amazing price. It means going to lots of auctions, but hay, it is a great way to build a supply of mason jars too…and who doesn’t need more mason jars, right?
We figured the logical way to start was at the beginning. There were lots of options, but I was really focused on the sickle mowers, and when we found the right auction, we scored big time. We were able to pick up two umm…very experienced John Deere sickles for $60 each. The good old #5 was in the least need of repairs, so we got right to work and had it up and running pretty quick. The Old Mason would surely scoff at my definition of ‘pretty quick’.. When you are dealing with equipment that is well over fifty years old, you just have to learn to look at break downs as an opportunity to run to town and pick up a few necessities while you are out scouring the plains for parts. Needless to say, we are fully stocked up on necessities here on the homestead now!
Here is Old #5, the Bale Monster, No troubles Hay Rake and…necessities!
The next piece of equipment needed was a good rake. We were fortunate enough to come across one for $600 that needed about a dozen tines. No work there. Sometimes the stars do shine just right and we definitely needed some luck after the Old #5 experience. Now we really fell into a deal on the baler. keep saying that and the Old Mason keeps smacking his head. This monstrosity came into existence back when Bananarama was singing about cruel summers (We definitely know a little about that!!) and break dancing was not what the Old Mason does when the cutter breaks a tooth and he hops around saying things that make the heifers blush. But we were able to pick it up for $750 and all it needed was some new bolts, and a couple of bearings. It still needs new tires, but we had it on the ground and baling for under a $1000. So while we were looking to economically bale hay in future years, we actually came out pretty good on this year’s hay as well. Total cost of equipment and parts was $1720. If we had hired someone to cut it for us, it would have cost $1320. So we spent an additional $400 this year, with only the cost of upkeep in future years. Pretty good, right?
We thought so, and are glad we went this route, even if we did have to spend some time in the shop getting it into shape. But shouldn’t we add in our labor to find the actual cost? Heck no! I prefer to keep my sanity! I think instead we should just sit back and count the bales of hay instead of analyzing profits and losses. I feel way richer that way. We now have the pride and security of knowing we are sitting on 101 bales of top grade chow for our bovine fertilizer machines. If only the haying machines were so reliable!
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Like 95 more times.
P.S. Now that we have this new, forever homestead up and running, you should begin to see more regular posts! Please feel free to drop me a line and let me know if you would like to see more of these types of articles. Feedback is always welcome.