Here on the Jamison Family Farm, we have escaped the intense July heat and are now enduring August temperatures. I believe in Roanoke, they set or tied a record for consecutive days with temperatures above 90 degrees that dates back to 1966. Oddly enough, August started a bit cooler, but temperatures have rebounded back into 90's, even today as I write this blog entry. Humidity has remained high and uncomfortable throughout.
May was continuous rain with the exception of a brief month end window. June was equally rainy and Potts Creek went out of it's banks frequently.
Leading into the last week of May, I kept a keen eye on the weather. Our tractors and equipment were ready, we just needed a favorable window to cut hay. With hay that is for sale and the end customer being primarily horse owners - you only get a one or two cracks at cutting and baling First Quality Hay.
Fears of the haymaker are multifold. To much ground moisture from rain can cause problems such that even with clear skies, the moisture in the ground will evaporate into the cut hay and keep it from properly curing. There is the ever present chance of pop-up thunderstorms (or a botched weather forecast) that drenches hay that would otherwise be ready to bale; rendering it low quality with a nice tan straw looking color - not good. Knock on wood, equipment failure can scuttle the best intentioned haymaking too.
At the end of May, our timothy (really timothy mixed grass - but overwhelmingly timothy) was close to being mature to the extent that the trademark cat tail seed head was emerging from the stem/boot in our fields with Climax timothy, but in our fields with Clair timothy, the seed head had not emerged at all. Whatever else was mixed-in, such as native Orchard grass and Fescue, were prime to cut. Cutting the timothy early in maturity is a plus from a quality standpoint. All we needed was a window...
A favorable weather window of lower temperatures, steady breezes and low humidity were forecast to begin on May 30th and we pounced on our hay fields in force. With rain forecast to return in about four days we took a gamble on the both the weather and equipment (read breakdowns) and we cut all of our First Quality Hay. Within a day and a half, everything we had was on the ground. To deal with this much hay - I phoned in vacation from my day job...
In addition to lower temperatures, low humidity and a steady breeze, we have two tools that can enable us to go from cut to bale in as little as three days - something we were betting would pay-off big. The first tool is our Krone mower conditioner. It cuts hay cleanly and in any condition, heavy/thick, damp or dry. The second is our Vermeer TR90 tedder (it also doubles as a rake). The mighty Massey Ferguson 1105 powered the Krone with ease and this year, I put the John Deere 5055d on the rake/tedder.
In the picture of the Krone below, just above the cutter bar, you will see impellers hanging down. These impellers spin and propel the hay against the hood of the mower, as well as, force the waxy grass stems to rub against each other as the hay moves off the cutter bar and out the back. This scrubbing action removes the waxy layer of the stem (where the moisture resides) and allows the hay to dry faster. I liken it to taking a loaf of bread, taking the wrapper off, and setting it in the sun. The bread dries quickly - same with hay.
The tedder has tines that spin and pick-up the cut hay, spread it out to glean more sunlight, toss it into the air flipping the bottom/damp hay to the top to dry and finally fluffs up the hay off the stubble such that a breeze can flow through to assist in drying.
A mower conditioner and tedder are critical to making First Quality Hay - sooner than later!
Tedded and raked, we began baling. My John Deere 348 baler makes a beautiful bale of hay and the pan kicker (or as John Deere calls it - #42 Ejector), tosses the hay bales through the air and into our ready wagons with eight foot sides being pulled behind. With help in place at our barn and Nathaniel shuttling full wagons to the barn and empty wagons back to the baler, we could really bale a lot of hay fast - and did!
Did I mention we baled a LOT of hay... To give you an idea of the volume, our Lower Field alone yielded just over 150 square bales of hay per acre. Had the weather forced us to wait a few more weeks, the grass would have kept growing, became over-ripe and our yield would have been even higher. A lot of hay makers prefer to wait for those extra high yields at the expense of quality. On the Jamison Family Farm, we prefer quality over quantity.
If you notice in the picture, the last wagon is at the end of the barn, out of the weather, ready to unload and stack along with some other hay. After that wagon was parked - the rain began again and lasted pretty much through June. We had succeeded getting our hay cut, baled and into the barn in our short weather window - an answered prayer!
Once things calmed down from our first cut, we took core samples for analysis. We use Equi-Analytical's Trainer 603 wet chemistry test. It is interesting to see hay ads across the internet, Craigslist, Facebook, etc., featuring "horse quality hay". Our "horse quality hay" is truly managed, weed free as possible, cut and baled for quality AND - we have a food label via these tests. I'm not aware of too many (if any) hay producers within striking distance of our farm that take such measures to make hay. Years ago, I told my kids, "It takes as much back to lift a bale of trash as it does First Quality Hay - so let's do it right." I can't imagine any other way to make hay on the Jamison Family Farm.
Cutting a little earlier yielding less mature grass produced some of our best forage test results we've had in years. Excellent horse quality hay. The test results are below.
Fast forward from our first cutting - we weighed when to take a second cut as we had growth with the continued rain, however, we've elected to wait and get as much leaf as possible. Unfortunately with the dry - hot July, hay growth pretty much has stopped and even with early August showers regrowth is still slow. There is enough hay now for a second cutting, but we need a weather window to present itself for haymaking. Right now, we are in a pattern of hot, humid weather with afternoon/evening thunderstorms. I'm thinking we will make our second cut around Labor Day weekend. We have cut hay as late as Thanksgiving...
Remember Potts Creek out of it's banks this past spring? Now the water level is very low - low enough that I can (and do) set a chair in the creek, ponder all things and sometimes have a relaxing lunch.
May the Hay Dog has her own way of dealing with rain, heat and drought...
Hope everyone is having a great summer!!!
If you are in need of First Quality Hay - we can be reached at FirstQualityHay@icloud.com.
Take care - The Jamison Family Farm
This blog entry is checked and edited by May the Hay Dog - WOOF!