This past week, I picked up our first load of hay for the winter. This is the first of about 140 bales of hay we’ll bring to the farm this fall in preparation for winter munchies. Our cows are grass fed and grass finished so besides the green growing grass we have currently, this is what they get all winter. I get the vast majority of my hay from one farmer in Clayton but Dan the Hay Man, pictured above, had some cow hay he was willing to let me purchase again this year so I grabbed a load while he still had some available. This is a good deal because Dan only grows horse hay (a higher quality hay) but occasionally he’ll have a bit of hay that wasn’t just perfect, making it great for cows (they are less finicky).
The trick with getting hay to the farm is:
You need a day where both you and the farmer can meet. That means no tours or customers for me, and no day job or other commitments for the farmer.
You need a day where it hasn’t rained in at least a 3-4 days because, fully loaded, a hay trailer is very heavy and will get stuck in the field trying to get out.
You need a day where all vehicles are running with no break downs.
All employees have shown up work
And nothing has gone wrong on either end (sick cow, escaped pig, down tree, etc).
By the rules above, that means we can get one, maybe two loads of hay every third alternate Tuesday. Since it takes 9 loads of hay to get us through the winter, by my math it takes about two months to get our hay to the farm. That means I’m already behind! Only 120 bales to go.
I was off the farm this morning heading East to see a customer. I left well before dark and just before false dawn I noted white stuff in my headlights. Snow ?! Could it be? Nothing on the roads so I felt it was kind of neat to see a few flakes. 15 minutes later as I continued East the sun began to come up and I found that everything was white. As the light got better I was able to take this.
Will spring ever get here? I had to get an emergency load of hay from my friendly hay farmer yesterday and I will likely need another load before this winter is over! That’s another $1000 of hay on top of what we’ve already spent. Where are my warm dry winters I love so much?
So we did a lot of work a year ago to fix a bunch of highly eroded areas in our pastures. It was a pretty good sized job and we were glad to get it done. Unfortunately this winter during the heavy rains some areas have started to wash again. This isn’t acceptable and needs to be fixed.
I was looking at the problem areas and determined that the issue is that the red clay that we used for backfill is too poor to grow decent grass and has stayed soft and easy to erode. I really don’t want to haul more dirt in, it’s just treating the symptom, not the problem. The problem is that the soil is poor. So what’s the solution? Dig out the bad soil, haul it off, and being back better fill? Sure, if I want to spend money and time. Instead I am going to use the tools I already have.
We began this week a change in how we are feeding our cows. We have stopped rolling out our bales of hay and are now spot feeding the cows, placing the bales of hay on the worst spot of pasture. The result is that the cows trample the bad soil and break it up. This reworks the new gullys and reflattens the soil. The cows also spill about as much as they eat. That means that they are punching organic material into the red clay which by spring will turn this clay into black soil. Fertile black soil will grow grass like nobody’s business. This is exactly what this type if farming is about. Using your animals and your experience to work the soil for you rather than burning diesel fuel.
I will update with pictures what our processes have done come spring. I can tell you that where we fed into a round ring, the soil turned into 1 foot deep black topsoil so I have high hopes for these problem areas.