As much as I’d like to keep denying it, winter is on its way. The grass is slowing down and it’s time to start thinking about hay. Once we run out of grass, we will start feeding the cattle hay. They are still 100% grass fed, they are just eating dried grass instead of fresh. Think of it as canning fresh summer produce for the winter months.
Lest anyone be confused, hay and straw are not the same. Straw is a waste product of grain production. Grains – such as wheat, rye, oats, or barley – are grown for the seed head. Those seeds, or berries as they are sometimes called, are what the farmer is after. However, just harvesting the seeds leaves a lot of waste in the form of a stalk. To minimize this waste, the stalks are dried and baled as straw. We use a lot of straw here at the farm, primarily as bedding for our animals. It is warm and absorbs moisture which is great for keeping our animals safe and healthy throughout the winter.
Hay is different. Hay is grass that is harvested and dried as animal fodder. The same grasses and legumes our cows munch on all summer long go into the hay bales we feed them throughout the winter. Timothy, fescue, alfalfa, etc. While straw is edible, hay is more nutritious. Once a plant creates a seed (or seeds), all of its energy and nutrients are concentrated in that seed. With grains, the seeds are harvested and straw is just a byproduct. All the nutrition is removed with the seed head. Hay is harvested before the plants put out seeds so the stalks and leaves retain all the important vitamins and minerals that the cows need.
We get a truck load of hay at a time. You don’t want too much because it can go bad if you don’t store it properly. A big semi comes and drops a load outside the barn and then someone – normally Steve – uses the skid steer to stack it neatly in the barn. We got our first load today, but Steve was out delivering meat so Ryan decided it was as good a time as any for me to learn to stack hay. I avoided this task for all of March and the better part of April and had kind of hoped to continue avoiding it. The skid steer is not my favorite piece of equipment and moving 800 lb. bales of hay around makes me more than a little nervous. Still, Ryan wanted me to learn so into the skid steer I climbed. I’m glad he has so much confidence in me because some days I’m really not too sure of myself.
It took a while. Much longer than it would have taken Steve or Ryan. But in the end I got them all stacked and organized. I didn’t knock anything over or take out any gates. I didn’t crash the skid steer or run over anyone. Some days, that’s all you can ask! I even managed to move two bales at a time which is saying something because it completely obscures your view. That’s what I call a successful day.