Organically Produced Hay Is Part Of Our Quality Process!

Organic dairy farming typically relies on grass and forage as the main food source for most or all of the animals on the farm. Cows, sheep, goats, horses and even pigs, rabbits and poultry can get most of the nutrition they require from good quality grasses and forage.

Hay: A Winter & Supplemental Feed Necessity

Unfortunately, for over half the country, pasture and forage options are only readily available for about six months each year. Compounded by the problems of drought, flood and fire, this window for feeding naturally occurring pasture and forages may be shorter, or even non-existent, in some areas.

cows_grazing_winter1Some of our Jersey milk cows graze a pasture in freezing winter temperatures.

In addition, most farms will have a need for hay during the normal grazing months, as well. Any animal that is confined will need to be fed. Injured stock, or simply one that must be temporarily confined for breeding, birthing or other issues can consume a large quantity of hay in just a few days. For example, a cow that is dry-lotted, or kept off pasture, might need to eat a dozen plus pounds of good quality hay every 24 hours. Cows that are feeding a calf, or producing milk for the farmer may require more.

The farmer who chooses to feed organically has the difficult task of obtaining hay that can be verified as organic. While many hay producers may advertise their hay as natural or organic, it is difficult to know whether they really followed all the rules in making the hay, including cleaning the hay making equipment between each use, and shunning all insecticides and commercial fertilizers.

winter_cows_snow_hayCertified organic hay being fed to our Jersey heifers.

Another big concern when searching for hay to purchase is not only what transpires on the land where the hay is grown and how it is made, but what occurs on neighboring lands. Hay grown on land that catches any runoff from neighboring fields is subject to contamination that can ruin organic land for years to come. In addition, the risk for drift from sprayed fertilizers and pesticides anywhere in the area of the hay crop add another frightening unknown for the purchaser.

Making Your Own Hay Can Be The Best Way To Ensure Organic Quality

These concerns are very valid, and one of the prime reasons that many who farm organically decide to integrate haymaking into their own operation. For many, the ability to produce ahay crop on their own carefully managed land is simply a requirement for the physical and financial health of their entire farm.

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

While most people may think that making hay while the sun shines is just a colorful way of expressing the need to get or stay busy, it actually is an important part of harvesting the highest quality hay. The sugar content of the hay increases throughout the day, peaking in the mid-afternoon hours. Hay that is cut when the sugar content is highest, and properly cured, baled and stored will offer the animal that eats it optimum energy and nutrition.

The stage of growth at which the hay is cut also influences the nutritional value of the hay. Cutting it too early results in very little undergrowth, while waiting too long means that the grasses have expended much of their energy forming seed heads and will not be as good, nutritionally, for the livestock. We have received a few bales of first cut hay that was cut far too late in the season. It was coarse, stem filled hay that needed to be mixed in with better hay in order for our cows to eat it.

making_organic_hayWe hire a hay contractor to cut and bale our certified organic hay.

Cutting, curing and baling hay in an organic fashion can take many forms. While modern tractor-powered hay equipment is the most often chosen method today for medium and large farms, smaller operations can still make good quality hay using methods ranging from horse-drawn implements to those that can be pulled with a farm truck, jeep or other vehicle. Micro-farmers with just an animal or two to winter, might even choose to implement the old hand tool method of making hay with a scythe.

Clean Cuts and Proper Handling

No matter what equipment is chosen for the task, it needs to be sharp so that the hay is cut cleanly and not torn. Clean cuts seal the stem and help the hay hold onto its nutrition during the curing process, resulting in an improved quality of hay.

As a rule, hay must be cut when no precipitation is expected and be allowed to cure thoroughly. Ideally this means cutting the hay late one afternoon and allowing it to cure for twenty-four to forty-eight hours before baling. Moisture levels must be checked, and if they are too high, the hay must be fluffed up, torn or teddered, to help it dry, or cure.


The Dangers of Wet Hay

When hay is baled without being properly cured, it creates two huge problems for farmers. First, tightly baled wet hay will produce heat when stored and can spontaneously combust. Scores of hay barns are lost each year when this mistake is made.

Additionally, hay that is baled before it is properly cured has a tendency to mold and develop dangerous mycotoxins. These mycotoxins can cause illness, abortion, failure to rebreed and even death to animals that consume it. Given the choice, most animals will avoid moldy hay, consuming it only when nothing else is offered.

Properly cured hay should be tightly compacted into uniform bales and then sheltered from the elements, to retain as many nutrients as possible. Farmers must also be sure to stock enough hay to comfortably take them through the winter, without having too much left over. Even the most carefully made hay begins to lose some nutritional value during storage. Hay held over from one year to the next offers a slightly less nutritional value to the animal it feeds, making it very important for the farmer to carefully plan, bale and store an amount that will provide well for the farm’s animals, yet not create a surplus that will affect the next year’s feeding program.

Premium, Organic Quality Hay Nourishes the Farm and the Farm’s Customers

Much more can be said about the value, feeding and making of top-quality hay on a farm that is being managed to meet and exceed every organic certification guideline. It is one of the keys to the profitability and success of our farm, and our ability to provide you, our customers, with premium quality, healthy Jersey heifers and Jersey cows that are produced above the standards required for organic farming. No thanks are necessary, that’s just the way we do things here – for our family, and for yours!


Farmer Guy July 8, 2014 Feeding Cows, Organic Farming