Making Hay Part 1: Preparing the Soil for Planting

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Making Hay - Part 1

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  When shown a bale of premium hay and one of poor quality, most horsemen would have little difficulty deciding which bale they would like to take home and feed to their horses.  But since the average bale of hay has one or more defects and because the hay-buyer's budget enters into the picture, choosing hay, in actuality, is often not so easy.  The many factors which should be considered when selecting hay all relate directly to the growing and harvesting of the hay.  Understanding the hay-making process from the ground up can help you make wise decisions when it comes to buying your winter supply of hay.

Preparing the Soil for Planting

Making premium hay is both an art and a science.  While much of the success of a hay field can be attributed to such technical factors as seed selection and fertilization, the critical moments of when to mow and bale require somewhat of a sixth sense.  Luck, especially with the weather, also plays a large part in making good hay.

     The story of the hay in your horse's feeder may have started two to three years ago when a field was prepared and seeded.  Often hay is used in rotation with other crops such as corn or barley.  Such grains deplete the soil of its nitrogen and legume hays, such as alfalfa, add necessary nitrogen back to the soil.  This rejuvenating effect, along with the fact that premium hay is a good cash crop, makes alfalfa a very popular hay with farmers.

     A hay field is first worked with a plow and then a mulcher.  Following this, the field is floated (leveled) to prepare it for seeding.  Hay plants do best in a firm seed bed, not a soft one.
 In some areas, the addition of limestone might be required to reduce soil acidity thereby increasing yield.  This is especially important where there is 25 inches or more of rain per year which can leach lime and plant foods out of soil leaving it acid.  Nitrogen fertilizers, if used, can also contribute to soil acidity.

     If a soil test indicates the need for fertilizer, nitrogen, potassium, and/or phosphorus may be added to the soil.  Fertilizing gets seedlings off to a vigorous start, assures consistently higher yields, and helps plants withstand stresses from insects and winter kill.

     When a farmer selects his hay seed, he not only pays attention to the type of hay he wishes to grow, but to the variety of that hay which does well in his local area.  Extension agents have results of field trials which test varieties and mixes for such things as yield, resistance to drought, and the ability to withstand root rot, wilt, and winter-kill.  The quality of the seed which is planted is also important.  Quality is dictated by purity (very low weed and other seed content) and germination vitality.  Hay seeds are drilled into the field to a depth of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch.

Cherry Hill

Part 1 - Planting

Part 2 - Challenges

Part 3 - Cuttings

Part 4 - Choosing Good Hay

Part 5 - Hay Varieties


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