Saturday, July 26, 2014

Baling Prairie Hay

There's a 12 acre field of native-grass on the farm that has probably been a hay meadow for over 100 years.  I'm not sure why it's called a "meadow", except that it's always been called a "hay meadow" for as long as I can remember.  It always amazes me that it usually produces a decent amount of hay without any significant inputs, it hasn't really been fertilized in all these years, it hasn't been planted to any sort of "improved grass", it hasn't had any sort of weed control, and it hasn't been grazed.  Besides being cut and baled every year for hay, it's more or less the same as it was before the Land Run.

Native warm season grasses (little bluestem, switchgrass, indian grass, big bluestem) are usually under appreciated, but I think they are some of my best grasses and pastures because they are reliable producers, are tolerant of low input management, and they seem to be relatively drought resistant.

A couple of years ago, I built a fence along the road so that I would have the option of just grazing it instead of only having the option of baling it for hay.  I wasn't planning on baling it this year, but my crabgrass doesn't seem to be growing like I think it should be growing, so since most of my pastures seem to have enough grass, I decided to go ahead and bale it as a hedge against a poor crabgrass hay crop.  I've been meaning to graze this field instead of baling it ever since I put the fence up, but you'd be surprised how difficult it is to NOT bale a hay meadow (would it still be a hay meadow if I don't bale it?).  Next year, I'm going to try my hardest to actually graze it instead of baling it.

Baling hay is a relatively simple process of cutting it, letting it dry, raking it into windrows, and then baling it.  Since I'm still working on my picture-taking skills, I took a few pictures of the process so everyone could get a sense of what it looks like around this part of the farm.
Cutting hay
Raking hay into windrows

Raked and ready to bale
Back when I built this fence, there was a rock ledge right where I wanted to put the gate, so I had to build these gate posts out of rolled up cattle panels filled with rocks.  You can see these types of structures scattered around the countryside, but you would be surprised at how many people seem to be interested in these "posts".


  1. Replies
    1. It's amazing what a little rain at the right time will do to make everything nice and green.

      Back in 2011 and 2012, we had months of over 100 degree temperatures, little rain, and the grass was so thin and there were so many weeds in this hay meadow that I wouldn't have baled it if I hadn't been desperate to get some hay baled (of course, baling up those weeds does kinda clean up a field in the following years).

  2. I love prairie grasses and on my parent's farm, we have expended much energy turning little odds and ends of fields into native prairie grass plots with big and little blue stem, Indian grass, and native wild flowers. We also have burnt it regularly which helps improve the stands. Once you get a great stand, it truly is self sustaining because the grasses crowd out the weeds and the amount of organic material left behind every year fertilizes it.

    The first plot that we turned into native prairie as part of the CRP program was a 40 acre plot that went in back in the early 80's. To this day it is pheasant city and if you take a walk through it from one side to the other and don't kick up at least 50 pheasants, I would voluntarily eat my hat.

    1. NW OK has a pheasant hunting season and we're about 4-5 miles outside the boundary of the hunting area.

      About 6-7 years ago, I started seeing pheasants once in a while near the farm, and I thought that they were moving into the area because more people were growing crops like grain sorghum, soybeans, and a little corn along with more no-till (which is one of the many reasons I switched more towards no-till and growing something besides wheat). As they seemed to move into the area, I was hoping there might eventually be a pheasant hunting season in this area.

      But for whatever reason, a couple years ago I stopped seeing any pheasants, (although I am seeing more quail and dove lately).

      In my head, I've always associated pheasants with big corn fields instead of prairie grasses, it would be interesting to leave some grass strips next to a sorghum field to see if the pheasants would show up again.

  3. They love bedding down in prairie grass, so much so, we never let anyone hunt it without a dog because it was darn near impossible to find the birds after they were shot unless they were dead when they hit. We used to have the best pheasant hunting in all of Iowa but a series of icy winters and wet springs really reduced their numbers. Wet springs are really hard on the chicks surviving. But the last couple years they've been on the rebound again. We had some hard and very big rains this spring so the jury is still out if they got hammered again.

    I think I've mentioned it to you before but we used to have a lot of quail but it has been nearly a decade since I've seen a covey.