To Bale or Not to Bale? To Clip or Not to Clip? Here Are Some Answers

Let’s ponder two questions with this article: “To bale or not bale?” and “Should I put up hay or just buy what I need?” I think everyone, no matter how efficient or the type of grazing system, should have some hay on hand. It is your insurance plan; one of your contingency plans. Feeding less hay is a good thing though, at least it should be – meaning that you are hopefully grazing more. Smaller operations, especially ones with less than 15 cows or equivalents would have a difficult time justifying owning hay equipment. That depreciating investment would probably be best spent on improving the grazing efficiency of the farm or on fertility. I have to be careful here not to step on toes, but I’ve seen people buying a lot of hay equipment so they can stop buying hay and perhaps even “sell” some hay. While they really could have gotten away from using very little hay, they have spent their money on iron and then often mine their soils to help pay for that equipment. Can you really sell that hay for enough to replace the nutrients and pay for labor and equipment? Not likely. If you are in what I will refer to as a “building” stage of soil fertility – in other words, it still needs some, then you would be better off bringing in fertility, i.e., hay, than to remove it. This is true even if you are not selling it and utilizing it you

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5 thoughts on “To Bale or Not to Bale? To Clip or Not to Clip? Here Are Some Answers

  1. The main reason I try to clip my pastures, and early, is to reduce the persistence of certain perennial weeds while encouraging forage grasses. However, clipping later, after grass and clover seeds mature, can be helpful is spreading those seeds (and weed seeds) around to help fill in thin places. This week I need to decide which of these goals I’ll try to achieve – but “clip later” will probably win because I have hay to cut. For pastures that are regularly tilled and reseeded, these concerns probably wouldn’t apply.

  2. We have a small farm in central Wisconsin. We raise pastured hogs on sandy soil and we start grazing all of our pastures between 12 to 24 inches. We graze using high stock density in each area for 24 hours. The forage is evenly grazed even the thistles. This works great in our area because the forage is knocked down and that holds our moisture and promotes very vigorous regrowth. On ten acres we can graze from April until December even in dry years. This was a great article

  3. I am a very small producer of meat lambs on 2 acres in Maine. While I always take the pasture down at some point in the summer, every year I do it earlier. I found that knocking it down when it is so high I can’t SEE the lambs was counterproductive- the amount of plant material covering the field would impede the growth of mid-season grasses & the pasture never came back into high production & I was forced to feed out hay. Had it clipped in late May this year; this is the earliest I have ever done it, and I am encouraged by the fact that these early grasses have not ‘burnt’ and continue to grow well. Also a factor in clipping at this time was the lushness of the feed & fear of bloat. While not burning off in the hot sun, there has been some desirable ‘drying’ of the grasses. Suspect I will have to clip again later in the summer, something I never had to do, but although my costs of clipping may well be doubled, I am still encouraged that I will be feeding less hay & the fields will be more productive longer.

  4. Good article and one that I follow being a small time rancher. One thing I have learned is don’t except someone’s remarks that the hay has been “fertilized and weeded”. A lot of the times it has been done, but they bale the weeds along with the grass and much of the time you don’t see it until you feed it out. Once you have found a dependable hay producer and you trust his word and hay analysis, stick with him. I now spend a good portion of my spring time trying to get rid of weeds I imported through bad hay.

    1. Jane: Yes, sooner is normally better than later in this regard. Extended rainy weather has been a factor here in the Midwest and preventing a more timely clip. Prior to mature seed head production is certainly ideal.

      Don: Absolutely, you do have to be aware of what you are buying. Obtaining a sample for an analysis is always a good idea if buying very much and knowing the buyer…

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