Saving the Hay

National Meadows Day last Sunday saw us spending a fair part of the day out in one of the Trust’s meadows, saving the hay.

This is grass that was cut in the rain on our last scythe course. We would not normally choose to cut hay in such weather, but it is an interesting challenge to save it despite the less then favourable conditions.

The day after the course it rained all day. Freshly cut grass is relatively unaffected by this kind of soaking. The following day, Thursday, the cut area was split into thirds. The following days were showery, but with a useful drying wind.

The bottom third was worked reasonably intensely, aiming to get it dry enough to rack relatively quickly. The area was small enough that the work needed did not take too much time, given other commitments, and we could quickly row it back up again should showers threaten.

The other two-thirds were minimally handled to hold it in a greener state that is less vulnerable to damage from rain, with the aim of finishing it once the first third was safe and so avoiding having to rack all the hay in one day.

Here is the rest of the story in pictures. Click on a picture enlarge it.

The bottom third on Thursday. It was spread in a dry spell, then rowed up into narrow rows in which the hay could continue drying but had less surface area exposed to passing showers.
The top two-thirds on Thursday. The windrows were flipped over to expose the cut stalk ends. This allows the grass to starting losing moisture in the wind and any sun.
Thursday evening. Phil and I worked together to double up the narrow rows for the night, Phil pulling one up and myself following along pulling one down to meet it.
The doubled up rows.
Spreading the bottom third on Friday.  The change in the grass is already visible. The weather reports were closely watched for dry periods and the hay re-rowed when the shower threat was higher.























All spread.  The racks visible on the right were built a week before during a previous haymaking session.
Saturday, final drying before racking the bottom third. The hay was rowed up over night, here we are flipping over the rows.  Flipping rows is a very fast way to handle the hay and can easily be done several times in a day.
Flipping the rows exposes the greener underside and fluffs the grass to increase wind drying through the row.
The top two third was spread for the first time on Saturday. Although the grass still looks very green, once spread it will dry fast as it has been wilting for several days.


A stack of racks ready for work
Racking up the bottom third, Saturday afternoon. As it turned out, Sunday was a much nicer day then expected and we may have got this hay to barn dry if we had left it down. As it was, we were able to take apart some older racks and get them into the barn in the time in which we would have been hauling this hay (see last photo)
A closer picture of the grass to give an idea of how cured it is.
The bottom third on racks, with the older, paler racks behind. The next third up has been worked in rows for the afternoon. Note how the hay is beginning to look twisted into the rows. To avoid the same green hay staying in the middle every time the row is flipped these rows will need spreading and re-rowing or fluffing up.
Sunday – the remaining hay is spread on the first sunny day this batch has seen.
Sunday evening. All the hay from the course is up on racks and the sky is blue! It poured down the next day. The hay on the ground in the foreground is from the older set of racks that were taken apart and spread in the morning, freeing up the racks for re-use. We were out in the field until 10pm bringing it in, but experience shows that we get the best quality hay if we bring it in off the racks at the first opportunity, especially on this field which has a high proportion of broad-leaved herbs that do not thatch well into long-lasting racks.



2 thoughts on “Saving the Hay

  1. I was intrigued at the thought of cutting hay in the rain as it rains plenty around here, but to read that despite one day of persistent rain followed by a few showery days and only one dry day, that part of your hay was ready for carting after five days, gives me great encouragement, or have I misunderstood?
    When did the bottom third go into the barn?, and how far behind was the remainder? I have no experience of hand hay making but your blog really encourages me to try it rather than buying hay as I have done so far. I’ll let you know what happens.

    1. None of the hay came in directly off the field. The bottom third was put on hay racks on the end of day 5, to keep it safe from showers expected that night that actually didn’t materialise. We may have actually got it barn dry had we left it down for the sunny Sunday (day 6) that followed.

      The top two thirds was still not dry enough to put in the barn when we racked it on Sunday evening to keep it safe from Monday’s rain. So this portion of hay was more then a day behind.

      The reason for racking hay at this point is because of it’s increased susceptibility to damage from rain as it dries. Green hay does not show too much damage, where as dry hay that then is re-wet by rain deteriorates quickly if not re-dried swiftly. Racks vastly decrease the surface area of hay vulnerable to the weather. The art is choosing the moment!

      The bottom third that was racked on the Saturday was thrown off the racks on the next sunny day, Tuesday 5th, and bought in that evening. The top two thirds was treated similarly this Tuesday, 12th July, the next suitably sunny day.

      Hay making is very interesting, have a go and watch the alchemy happening! We make little and often, so even if the weather doesn’t work out we don’t lose to much. As we have become more experienced it is amazing how we can make hay in all sorts of conditions, using various tricks and techniques. There is a rich tradition of hay making in unsettled weather in many countries, including our own, born out of necessity.

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