Bit of a quandry this year, and we’ve seen it coming for the last two years.
Our first year of ‘proper’ hay making, in the hay quarter, began in 2013 – Read here for a refresher.
At the time I commented on the impossible mission of tracking down someone willing to cut and bail a miserly quarter acre – no farmers were small enough scale anymore to have the kit to do it. Back then we managed to enlist the help of a chap with a mulcher, who cut the grass into small pieces. We had no luck with a bailer, so we ended up bagging the hay into refuse sacks – Farmer John let us have some storage space in the motor room of his grain barn, and things turned out fine.
Then into our second year of hay making – we bought a shiny new 120cm cutter bar for our old Fort 2-wheel tractor, meaning we were self-sufficient when it comes to cutting the hay. Brilliant. Still no luck finding anyone to bail, so we relied on the refuse sacks method again. It’s great, but as our production doubled, Farmer John’s motor room was stacked three bags high, with every bit of floor space taken up!
We’d always envisaged storing the hay ourselves – in our own barn (shed). In fact I worked out that we could fit 20 small 4′ x 2′ x 2′ bales in a 10′ x 10′ x 7′ shed, way back when we were deciding how large a shed we’d need – it ended up being a 30′ x 10′ broken down into three equal 10′ sections – one for dirty machinery (2-wheel tractor, attachments, mower, chainsaws etc), one for clean equipment and seeds animal food (electric fencing, animal products, grain, pellets etc), and one for storing hay for the winter feed. Currently our barn (shed) is 16′ x 10′, so we’re owed 14′ still. If we had our own hay storage space then we would be carrying it 40′ from where it’s cut, rather than carrying it 600′ to the farm next door! And as last year’s production grew to 200 bags and 14 tonne bags, it would save an awful lot of time.
So. On to this year. We’ve solved the cutting issue. A baler attachment to our 2-wheel tractor doesn’t exist, it’s too small a motor. Besides, even if we had a shiny new 2-wheel tractor with more oomph, a baler attachment is a ridiculous price! You can buy a second-hand baler for a fraction of the cost, whic is slightly annoying. No. Our problem is not the effort required to bag the hay, it’s more the transportation and storage.
Our solution? Well – in the future I might build a contraption I’ve seen that they used in North America, to make pine straw bales. It’s a wooden contraption you can build from 1/2″ plywood and some 2″ x 2″ wood, which helps you compact straw that you feed into it from the top. It’s portable, cheap, and does the job. The logic is that rather than drag a baler to where the straw is, you drag the straw to where the baler is, once it’s set up.
But for this year I’ve just carried out a test with the good old ‘plastic bin’ baler method – and I’m chuffed to bits with how well it works! Firstly, it helps being 6’5″ and not a lightweight. I started by tying to long strands of baler twine to each hinge, and dropping the loops of twine into and back out of the bin – letting the loose ends dangle over the front of the bin. Once the straw is dropped in to the bin, it will cover the twine, and eventually the twine will encompass three sides of the bale.
Employing the use of a handy platform ladder that we use for apple picking/hedge cutting/shed roof repairs etc, you climb into the bin once some straw has been thrown in. People throw more straw in, you stand on it to compress it, and once it’s a nice height, simple crouch down, and tie the loose ends of twine to the ends you’ve tied around the hinges, forming two complete loops of twine around the length of your bale (which is actually standing upright in the bin at the time).
Once you’ve tied it up nice and tight, simply drop the bin to its horizontal and drag the bale out – hey presto! One slightly wobbly but firm enough bale home made bale with no fuel used, except the extra butty you had to eat for energy 🙂
The bale here is the equivalent of eight refuse sacks full. Doing some simple maths, we used 200 refuse sacks last year, and 14 tonne bags. Each tonne bag is the equivalent of 10 refuse sacks, so we produced 340 refuse sacks of hay. That means that if we baled it using this method we’ll have around 42 bales. Each bale is 3′ x 2′ x 2 and you can fit 16 bales onto a floor size of 8′ x 12′, which is perfect for a shed with 10′ x 14′ outside dimensions! Three layers high will allow for 48 bales – easily enough for our needs. This works out at probably double the size needed for a proper baler (I worked out we’d get 20 bales from our quarter acre, rather than 42 bin bales), but I was working on a 4′ long bale in that case.
Any way you look at it, we’re all set for hay making time this year, and we’ve automated it enough for our liking, making the most of the small space we have. I don’t like the idea of adding another small building to our land, but we never add foundations to sheds, so if it’s ever needed to grow on again, we can simply dismantle it and relocate it 🙂