A few weeks ago this paper carried an article on how hay can be spoilt in so many ways, under the headline ‘The highs and lows of hay’.
The article described haymaking as a gamble and suggested that if a day of rain punctuated the drying time of simply another day would be needed. If only it were that straightforward.
I feel that in this year, with the loss of the Kirrie agricultural show to the wettest summer for many a year, the average townie might think that cutting a bit of grass is an easy exercise, akin to mowing a lawn.
While it is true that grass is the cheapest source of feed for any livestock enterprise, the effective utilisation of grass and its management is the key to getting the most of your grassland, especially when making hay for horses.
The hay must be dried to below 20 per cent moisture and it has to be just right or the hay goes mouldy and the horses will not eat it or, worse still, the hay will heat and may set the barn on fire. To understand why this is a complicated task you have to understand what is required to make good hay - grass must be cut at the right time and at the correct growth stage. As grass gets older its yield decreases and its moisture content falls. This may be seen as a good thing but the energy levels of the feed and its digestibility are crucial.
It needs a hot dry spell of at least four consecutive days of sunny conditions to reduce the crop to below 20 per cent moisture. In the days of my youth I can recall long hot summer days when the hay was turned by hand and coled in the field with many local helpers using handheld forks.
These days the process is mechanised, but you may notice some farmers becoming more neurotic than usual, wandering around looking at the darkening skies and constantly consulting the latest weather forecast. In fine weather the process takes 3 to 4 days, but this year the decision to cut was put off for over six weeks and the ONLY day which seemed available for baling in 2015 turned out to be August 13, and this is by far the latest date I can recall hay being made in my lifetime.
The sweet smell of a new crop of hay in the barn is one of life’s wonders and too few people are aware of such a treat. So, “make hay while the sun shines” – never a truer word said. How can we guarantee that we will ever get the minimum of five full dry summer days in future years? Is this the effects of global warming? I don’t know, but I do know that if farmers do not have a longer weather window than a single day then making quality meadow hay might just be another thing of the past.
What will the horses eat then?