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Hay making

Hay making is the longest established method of conserving grass for feeding cattle and sheep through the winter and has been an important function of the farming calendar in the UK for the last six thousand years. Successful haymaking relies on the crop of grass being thoroughly dried before it is baled or stored.

mowingThe first step in hay making is the mowing of the grass grop. This usually starts in late June just before flowering however, many crops are cut during flowering itself when lots of pollen is being produced (hence hay fever). Cutting must be done when the weather is fine and several continuous dry days are expected. Hay that has been rained on is of poorer quality and may be unpalatable.

the hay bobAfter the crop has been cut it is allowed to dry in the sun. To facilitate this a tractor with a "hay bob" will drive over the cut rows to rough up the drying grass. This helps remove moisture more quickly and makes the baling operation easier to complete.

a conventional bale of hayA conventional baler producing small bales (one is just emerging). Balers work by compressing the hay into a block before tying strong twines around it. Behind this baler is a red trailed sledge that collects the bales together and drops them off at a single point. These can then be picked up more quickly by the front loader and loaded onto a trailer.

A conventional bale wieghs 20kg and is about 1.2 metres in length.

front end loaderMore detail of a front loader illustrating the spikes that "grab" the bales. This tractor is multifunctional and able to complete several operations in the field without returning to the farm yard for additional implements.

a big balerConventional bales are ideal for use in small scale livestock enterpises and livery yards where little farm machinery is owned. A contractor will typically cut and bale the hay leaving the crop to be picked up and stored by hand.

big balerBig baling a crop of hay is also an option and because the entire operation is mechanised, much less labour is required. This can be particularly important on mixed farms where hay making can clash with harvesting cereal crops.

big bales awaiting collectionBig bales awaiting collection: Over the last thirty years there has been a move away from hay to silage as the preferred method of conserving grass. Silage production offers higher outputs and is less dependent upon weather for consistency and quality.

Statistics for Grassland in the UK

Grassland in the UK
Grass <5 years
(000 hectares)
1 226 1 205 1 243 1 200 1 246 1 193 1 137 1 176 1 141 1 241 1 232
Grass >5 years
(000 hectares)
5 363 5 584 5 519 5 683 5 620 5 711 5 967 5 965 6 036 5 865 5 925