Most people would know the basics of hay and why it is used. A big
part of our cropping program at Princess Royal includes the production of hay, so let’s have a look a little closer at what goes into producing hay at Princess Royal.
What About It?
Many farmers on sell to domestic or international markets, keeping a portion for their own use, which is where we are different. At Princess Royal, we use all our hay in our feeding program and then need to source additional bales at certain times during the year. This is due to the large requirements we have in our feeding programs to ensure that our livestock are kept full and happy.
Importance of Hay in livestock diets
Hay is used in most livestock's diets, not just here in Australia but across the globe. It is used on farms and in feedlots as a roughage fodder.
At princess Royal, hay is an essential dietary requirement in both our breeding cattle and backgrounding cattle diets, as well as in our rations feed to our feedlot cattle. In our feedlot, hay is especially important.
Feeding cattle too much grain that is rich and high in protein can cause an acidosis build up in the cattle’s stomach, as well as many other complications. This causes their stomach to get upset and in severe circumstances even result in death. So we ensure that quality hay is included in up to 10%-30% of their feed rations, depending on their time in the feedlot.
To ensure the hay is consumed amongst the remainder of the ration, the hay is milled, which we do ourselves at our feedlot. The hay is milled to roughly 2 inches in length so that the milled hay tickles the walls of the rumen, aiding digestion.
What are the Different Types of Hay?
Crops in Australia are grown by farmers to fulfil a wide verity of purposes for a variety of markets. The type and quality of hay crop that a farmer is able to produce also depends heavily on the season. The weather, the soil and ground conditions, as well as the machinery they use all play an important role.
In Australia, common hay produced include;
- oaten hay,
- wheaten hay,
- vetch hay,
- dry land and irrigated lucean hay,
- barley hay,
- and a variety of straw hay.
At Princess Royal, our preferred hay is oaten, due to the nutritional value. But we do not limit ourselves to just oaten hay.
What Tools Are Required:
We know that hay does not jump into a bale itself, it takes many man hours and the right equipment. For us here at Princess Royal it’s all hands on deck get the hay bailed and into the sheds.
The crop needs to be cut, and many farmers chose to use a conditioner to speed the process of the crop drying, so they can bail sooner.
We have two Miller Nitro’s with HDX-162 sickle fronts to cut and condition the crop. Next, the crop needs to be piled into rows, so that the baler can easily collect it. This is done just before its ready to be baled with a hay rake attached to a tractor.
Balers come in all shapes and forms. We use two New Holland medium square balers and a New Holland T7210 round baler which are towed behind our T8420 and T8330 New Holland Tractors.
After the bales have been made, it is then time to cart the bales and stack them undercover for safe keeping. Tractors or loaders with hay forks attached to the front are used to pick the bales up stacking them, ready to be loaded onto a truck to be carted to storage sheds.
We use our JCBs to stack the bales and to load them onto our Kenworth T408’s to then cart to the destinations for storage.
What Role Does the Weather Play?
The weather is the biggest unknown in any farmer’s business, and can either make or break the season. Crops must be sown at particular times of the year to optimise growing conditions. They also have to be harvested at their prime in order to get the best return possible.
Some farmers, particularly lucean and cotton farmers, use irrigation rather than relying on mother nature for rain. The sooner we can get the hay baled from the time it was cut the better. This is because environmental effects such as high wind could blow the crop around, or, if it's too wet, the hay could get mouldy on the ground.
We monitor the weather very closely, including humidity levels, to ensure that conditions are just right to bale hay.
Hay cannot be bailed on days that are too dry and hot, or the bales can break and become difficult to handle.
We must also monitor the crops to ensure moisture levels are between 12-14% for optimal baling, retaining the nutrients and plant sugars. If the moisture levels are too high it can cause the bales to self-combust in storage.
Hay need to be stored in a location where the weather will have minimal effects. When hay gets wet or damp it will go mouldy and spoil, which then cannot be fed to livestock. Another concern that all farmers will try to avoid at all costs, is a hay shed fire.
Not only will they loose their hard earned bales, there could be severe property damage. Ensuring the hay is at the right moisture level when baled will assist in preventing self-combustion, along with ensuring that the weather, does not have access to stored hay.
Above: one of our hay sheads after a fire caused by combustion
You may notice that many farmers have their hay sheds facing east, this is because minimal rain comes in from the east, playing a role in protecting the hay.