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Tiffani B
May. 31, 2011, 02:07 PM
We're property shopping, and one of the farms we looked at mentioned they grew their own hay. I've never even had a stray thought about growing hay, so I have lots of questions...

I imagine it's not as easy as cutting whatever grows and baling it up. So what goes into it? Seeding? Fertilizing? How often is this done? What kind of costs and time and equipment are involved?

What is the production per acre, on average? As in, about how many square bales (the small ones, 20-30 pounds each) can one acre provide per cutting (average)? How many cuttings are there per year, and how many of those are suitable for horses? I'm in IL, btw. I'm sure those answers vary depending on region.

Is it worth doing? We're looking at properties between 6-10 acres for maximum 5 horses. About half would be hay. Can that produce enough to sustain five horses for a year, or would I have to buy more? Would it be cheaper, all things considered, to just buy all my hay and use the hay fields for pasture, than try and bale my own?

Sorry for the seemingly dumb questions, but like I said, hay production has never crossed my mind when considering property so I never paid attention to the info when it was around.

Thanks!!!

EventerAJ
Jun. 1, 2011, 10:49 AM
We're property shopping, and one of the farms we looked at mentioned they grew their own hay. I've never even had a stray thought about growing hay, so I have lots of questions...

I imagine it's not as easy as cutting whatever grows and baling it up. So what goes into it? Seeding? Fertilizing? How often is this done? What kind of costs and time and equipment are involved?

What is the production per acre, on average? As in, about how many square bales (the small ones, 20-30 pounds each) can one acre provide per cutting (average)? How many cuttings are there per year, and how many of those are suitable for horses? I'm in IL, btw. I'm sure those answers vary depending on region.

Is it worth doing? We're looking at properties between 6-10 acres for maximum 5 horses. About half would be hay. Can that produce enough to sustain five horses for a year, or would I have to buy more? Would it be cheaper, all things considered, to just buy all my hay and use the hay fields for pasture, than try and bale my own?

Sorry for the seemingly dumb questions, but like I said, hay production has never crossed my mind when considering property so I never paid attention to the info when it was around.

Thanks!!!

First off, it depends on what kind of hay you want to grow.

Grass hay (orchardgrass, timothy, etc) is usually cheapest to plant. It can yield around 200 bales/acre (about 65-lb bales). It's usually cut twice a year (June, Aug/Sept). You can pasture your horses in the field after it's baled.

Alfalfa seed is more expensive. But the resulting hay is also more nutritious and more valuable (if you plan to sell it). You can usually get 3 or 4 cuttings per year; the latter cuts are better quality, but less quantity. Average is about 150-200 bales per acre, annually. Not really suitable for pasture grazing, though.


Soil testing is a MUST when growing hay. That will tell you how much fertilizer, lime, potash, etc to add. Good soil will produce the best quality hay and maximize your acreage.

You will also likely have to spray for weeds.


You can hire a hay farmer to cut, rake, and bale your hay. It will cost about $1.20-2.00 per bale, depending on location and equipment. This is MUCH cheaper than buying your own equipment and trying to do it yourself!


In short-- if you have the extra acreage, especially if it has some good existing orchard or timothy, growing your own hay can save you a bit. And you know exactly where it came from, and what's in it. But it will require an investment in the land, your horses won't be able to graze on it for part of the year, and if the weather goes bad (too much rain, or not enough) you may still end up buying it.

mitchfromtimco
Jun. 1, 2011, 11:15 AM
No offense to AJ but we dont go that in depth and our hay turns out fine...lovely alfalfa grass mix. If its already planted your going to be in good shape, spray for weeds after each baling, but as for soil testing and all that, I wouldn't bother, we never have and we have never had a problem. It's grass for crying outloud! We live in Iowa and get 4 sometimes 5 cuttings between may and late september. As for equipment and baling, it sucks but if your going to be there long term I'd get my own, you can pick up a used rake cheap, balers a bit more pricey and a you can get a bush hog for mowing for 300 or 400 bucks. Probably looking at aroind 1500 altogether for rake baler mower and rack. not that expensive, of coure you need a tractor...the crappy part is the work, its always hot and its never fun but to save on 4.50 a bale hay it might be worth it

mitchfromtimco
Jun. 1, 2011, 11:19 AM
also the biggest thing when making your own hay is timing, try to find a dry spell so you can cut it in the morning one day, rake it in the afternoon the next day and bale it in the afternoon the day afterthat, you need at least 24 hours drying on each side before you bale 36 is better, with 5 acres of hay at 150 an acre your looking at 600+ bales a year, depending on your feeding habits, you shouldnt have to buy very much extra!

SmartAlex
Jun. 1, 2011, 11:24 AM
Not only is it hot, itchy, back breaking work, but it often happens at inconvenient times. You have to watch the weather forecast, take time off work.... make sure you get home mid-day to rake. Pray it doesn't rain, and the fields are dry enough to drive on. As the saying goes, you have to "make hay when the sun shines". No matter what day that happens to be.

On the up side, there's not much more satisfying than a mow full of perfect hay you made yourself.

After years and years and years of doing her own hay, my mother finally threw in the towel because of the expense and difficulty finding help. I can't say that finding a reliable source for good hay has been any easier, but at least it doesn't rule your life.

Nlevie
Jun. 1, 2011, 12:46 PM
I agree with SmartAlex - we have about 15 acres of brome grass that was here when we bought it. We have fertilized most years and weed ourselves, but pay someone to cut & bale it. The amount we get varies, but we know it's good quality. We also turn the horses out to graze it after it gets a little growth after baling. The biggest drawback is it is getting almost impossible to find good help - we get between 800 to 1000 bales and it has to be picked up and put in the barn before it get wet & ruined, so you have a short window to do a LOT of work !

Robin@DHH
Jun. 1, 2011, 02:14 PM
You might want to see if there are any people who will
do custom baling in the area. If you are going to get a
tractor or teach a team of horses to work in harness; you
can do the cutting and raking. A mower and a rake are
not terribly expensive if you have farm auctions around
where you can buy used implements. A tractor will run
anywhere from a couple thousand (for a smallish older one)
to tens of thousands for a fancy new one. Harness for work
horses will run at least a thousand (plus you will have to
then feed and care for the horses).

The one important thing to mention whenever asking
about hay is where the location is. Hay is variable, some
areas get up to a dozen cuttings a year, others get only
one. Cooperative weather is an issue some areas,
irrigation in others.

Tiffani B
Jun. 1, 2011, 02:33 PM
Thanks everyone!

The amount of work is a little daunting - it's just me and my soon to be hubby, and we both work full time jobs. So I'd likely have to hire someone to cut and bale. And if the savings is minimal - for 600 bales of hay, that would feed five horses for about what, six months or so? Vs. the price of buying 600 bales for $2400?

Definitely need to weigh the pros and cons.

mitchfromtimco
Jun. 1, 2011, 03:18 PM
holy smokes our 5 horses, 3 are yearlings but only use about 2 bales a day in the summer and 3 in the winter! the work sucks but i think its being over blown here, for 5 acres your looking at 2 hours to mow and 2 to rake, those are easy jobs just sit on the tractor, when we bale we have someone drive the tractor and someone walk beside the baler and throw the bales up on the rack and some one on the rack stacking, thats gonna take you a good saturdays work but its by no means an impossible task, and if you wind up with extra, which you might depending on your field you could get some serious extra cash in the winter

Hilary
Jun. 1, 2011, 04:34 PM
But you have to offset the cost of the hay with the cost of all that equipment. You can't buy a tractor, mower, rake and baler for $2400. Nevermind the learning curve of making hay. It's frustrating when you know what you're doing!

If she can find someone to do the work for her and she pays a small amount per bale, then that would be the best solution -also we don't know what part of the country you are in - you don't get 4-5 cuttings in New England. You get 3 if it's a great year. Last year we got one and then no rain so 2nd was really skimpy.

I do make my own hay and love it, but it's a big fat pain. I take time off from work and I worry about the weather and now that I have fewer horses to feed, I only make what I need and have a deal with another farmer to take the rest for his cows.

Hpilot
Jun. 1, 2011, 05:02 PM
We hay about 50 acres. It's a pain in the butt!!! Cutting this week, but it got high because this is the first week we have had a break in the weather. Our mower (haybine) got bogged down and is now broke. Had to get another hay farmer to finish mowing for us. It is 95 degrees out with a heat index of 105.

We usually use two tractors, one to cut and rake and one to bale. One tractor is broke, so now we have one tractor to do all this plus take it off the equipment every night and put it back on the manure spreader. It MAY storm tonight, 30% chance. We have one small field with the hay baled laying on the ground until we can get help to stack. Our equipment alone has cost way more than spending that money on hay. At least now, since I only have a few horses and I lease out the rest of my barns. The up side is we can sell it to the lessee's for much less than they can buy hay and my horses still love our hay over all the other hay I buy. And it smells good once the job is done. Personally, I would not do it again, but we do have the equipment paid for so hubby insists and then cusses the whole time. UGGHHH!

secretariat
Jun. 1, 2011, 05:12 PM
PITA!!!!!

And 6-10 acres is sub-optimal for 5 horses to start with. Unless I'm missing something, not recommended.

saultgirl
Jun. 1, 2011, 05:47 PM
PITA!!!!!

And 6-10 acres is sub-optimal for 5 horses to start with. Unless I'm missing something, not recommended.

Just wondering what you mean by that -- do you think 6-10 acres is not enough land for 5 to live? Or not enough land to feed 5?

saultgirl
Jun. 1, 2011, 05:49 PM
I have a similar situation here -- looking to buy 65 acres, and a neighbouring farmer already takes the hay off the fields because the fields are not currently being used otherwise. So if I buy the land, I may try to make a deal with the farmer where he bales it and takes all but what I need (2-3 horses)? What is a good deal to make for that kind of set up?

Tiffani B
Jun. 1, 2011, 08:36 PM
But you have to offset the cost of the hay with the cost of all that equipment. You can't buy a tractor, mower, rake and baler for $2400. Nevermind the learning curve of making hay. It's frustrating when you know what you're doing!

If she can find someone to do the work for her and she pays a small amount per bale, then that would be the best solution -also we don't know what part of the country you are in - you don't get 4-5 cuttings in New England. You get 3 if it's a great year. Last year we got one and then no rain so 2nd was really skimpy.

It's buried in my original post - I'm in IL. I believe we get three cuttings here but I'm not sure. I hear the term "third cutting" a lot but I've never heard a higher one locally.

secretariat
Jun. 1, 2011, 08:57 PM
Saultgirl - anything can be managed, 5 horses with stalls could happily occupy 2 acres very productively, but there would be very little pasture growth - all hay and grain, mostly drylots for turnout. IMO, MINIMUM is 3 acres per horse for full turnout, so 15 acres would be required to keep 5 horses from beating everything into dust. 5 horses on 10 acres would be about 12 hour turnout, max, less during dry periods and winter. All IMO, but there's a lot of experience in Kentucky behind that statement.

rustbreeches
Jun. 1, 2011, 10:15 PM
You can find a local farmer willing to do it on shares sometimes. It varies locale to locale and on what type of hay, but 70/30 is average around here, with the farmer getting the greater share.

mitchfromtimco
Jun. 2, 2011, 01:48 PM
we keep 5 horses on 5 acres, they go in at night for grain and hay, but other than that thye are out, our pasture is not "dust" but they keep it moved pretty short

mitchfromtimco
Jun. 2, 2011, 01:51 PM
i agree that your not gong to recoup your investment in 1 year, but if you are going to be there 10-15 or 20 years, thats a lot of money at 2400 a year, you can get a good used baler for 1000, mower for 300-600 and a rake for 250 or so, a nice utillity tractor from after the vietnam era is probably gonna run about 5k, so youre looking at 3to4 years to have your investment pay for itself

pds
Jun. 2, 2011, 03:43 PM
We did this for the last 15 years with about 25 acres. Found a farmer willing to split. He would cut, rake and bale and keep half and we got the other half. No money exchanged.

Worked out pretty well and all we had to do was unload our half off the wagons.

EventerAJ
Jun. 3, 2011, 10:29 AM
i agree that your not gong to recoup your investment in 1 year, but if you are going to be there 10-15 or 20 years, thats a lot of money at 2400 a year, you can get a good used baler for 1000, mower for 300-600 and a rake for 250 or so, a nice utillity tractor from after the vietnam era is probably gonna run about 5k, so youre looking at 3to4 years to have your investment pay for itself

Not counting the money spent on breakdowns (which for equipment in that price range, could be a LOT!). And breakdowns always seem to happen at the worst times-- halfway through. Then you're stuck scrambling to get the hay off the ground, sometimes having to pay someone else to do it, or buy expensive replacement parts/equipment.


If growing, cutting, and baling your own hay were economically feasible, more horse farms would do it privately. But most of them can't afford the time, labor and cost of equipment. It's far cheaper to pay someone to custom-bale, or split halves/thirds.

Most hay farmers will gladly take half, or two-thirds of your crop instead of payment. It's a win-win situation-- you get all the hay you need (for free!), and they sell the excess to compensate for their time and expense.

Tiffani B
Jun. 3, 2011, 01:44 PM
It's a win-win situation-- you get all the hay you need (for free!), and they sell the excess to compensate for their time and expense.

Well that's the confusing part for a newbie - WOULD I truly get "all the hay I need?" Or would I still need to buy more? How much would I get? It would have to be at least half a year's supply IMHO to make it worthwhile and I don't know if that's doable on the small amount of land I'd be growing hay on.

EventerAJ
Jun. 3, 2011, 02:52 PM
Well that's the confusing part for a newbie - WOULD I truly get "all the hay I need?" Or would I still need to buy more? How much would I get? It would have to be at least half a year's supply IMHO to make it worthwhile and I don't know if that's doable on the small amount of land I'd be growing hay on.


Average 4 tons per acre-- could be more, could be less, depending on how much/what type of grass. That's 8,000lbs of hay per acre.

The average horse should consume 2% bodyweight in hay per day; 20lbs for a 1,000lb horse.

20lbs hay x 365 days = 7,300lbs of hay per horse per year.

So, 1 acre (at 4 tons of hay per acre) could provide for one horse's yearly need for hay. But, that doesn't include the farmer's half...so you'd get 6 months of hay from 1 acre.

So, in theory, 5 acres could provide 6 months of hay for 5 horses, giving the farmer the other half.

Of course, this is farming. Things are variable. A first-year stand of hay won't usually be as productive as an existing stand. Different grasses, cut at different times, produce different yields. You could get 6 tons per acre, each from two cuttings. It depends on the individual field, soil type, and grass composition.


The way I look at it, if you have the available space, growing hay isn't a waste. Even if you give half to the farmer in exchange for baling, you still have more (free) hay than you had to start with. That's less you have to buy in the long run.

And if it turns into a bad year and your hay sucks, bush hog it, turn your horses out, and face the reality of buying what hay you need.

I don't know how much acreage you have (or want). 5 acres, including the barn and turnout, isn't enough to also include hay. You'd need a separate 5-acre hayfield in addition to your daily horse space. Yes, it is *possible* to cut hay from a regular, grazing horse pasture, but I wouldn't expect that to feed my horses for the year.

Tiffani B
Jun. 4, 2011, 01:05 PM
Thanks AJ, that was the kind of info I was trying to find.

We're looking at properties between 6-10 acres. I've seen all kinds of layouts, some have wooded areas, etc but with the house, barn, indoor arena, hay barn and a garage for the man, I doubt I will have enough land to grow hay. I've considered renting pasture from neighbors (some of the properties we looked at had possibilities for that) so then I could possibly grow hay. We'll have to see what shakes out!

It's exciting, looking for my first horse farm. I'm not sleeping a wink LOL!

hastyreply
Jun. 4, 2011, 01:44 PM
I have 40+ acres in coastal. It was farm land and when the farmer quit, another neighbor came by and offered to go 50/50 on the sprigging. That sounded great to me. All I want is hay for my animals (which includes my daughter's horses, some of which are mine) and to keep my ag exemption. He takes the rest. I move hay bales in the field and do some spot spraying for weeds but he does the majority of the work. This is the 7 th year we've had it and the 4th drought year. I think we've had 2 wet years (when we got 4 cuttings) and one normal year. Even in the drought years (except the first one when we sprigged) we've gotten 2 cuttings. I'm happy with it. It's more useful to me than corn or wheat that was grown there before.

asb_own_me
Jun. 4, 2011, 05:36 PM
Find a local farmer to go 50/50. You don't want to deal with the labor or the equipment to do it yourself, and it would certainly not be worth it on a 6-10 acre property. If you were looking at properties over 25 acres, I'd say look into it.

Will you produce enough to feed your horses? That depends. You need to be a LOT more specific about how you are managing those 5 horses. Are all 5 going to be there all year, or will some be gone some of the time? 24/7 turnout, or daily turnout? Round bales in turnout? Easy keepers? Anyone on hay cubes? In work? There are so many variables......

buschkn
Jun. 4, 2011, 07:56 PM
Find a local farmer to go 50/50. You don't want to deal with the labor or the equipment to do it yourself, and it would certainly not be worth it on a 6-10 acre property. If you were looking at properties over 25 acres, I'd say look into it.

Will you produce enough to feed your horses? That depends. You need to be a LOT more specific about how you are managing those 5 horses. Are all 5 going to be there all year, or will some be gone some of the time? 24/7 turnout, or daily turnout? Round bales in turnout? Easy keepers? Anyone on hay cubes? In work? There are so many variables......

THIS.

I have 93 acres, about 50 of which is open, and about 30 of which is in hay. We just put up 2300+ bales of hay and it is a PITA, trust me.

I would NOT recommend buying the necessary equipment just to do hay on a 6-10 acres property. Your best bet would probably be to pay someone $2+- to custom bale it for you, and save yourself time and hassle. The equipment is not as cheap as people are making it sound, and even spending more than these estimates, mine is always breaking down and causing problems at the worst possible time. This year I payed someone to cut it, and someone else to bale it, since nothing was working right and the equipment is expensive to replace and/or fix. Not to mention finding the help to pick it all up NOW when the weather is good.

Honestly, it is nice to have good hay right out of my field, and does save me a little money, but for the size property you are looking at, you'll probably get more use out of it as pasture than hay, IMO.

Best of luck with whatever you decide!

hosspuller
Jun. 4, 2011, 08:42 PM
Thanks AJ, that was the kind of info I was trying to find.

We're looking at properties between 6-10 acres. I've seen all kinds of layouts, some have wooded areas, etc but with the house, barn, indoor arena, hay barn and a garage for the man, I doubt I will have enough land to grow hay. I've considered renting pasture from neighbors (some of the properties we looked at had possibilities for that) so then I could possibly grow hay. We'll have to see what shakes out!

It's exciting, looking for my first horse farm. I'm not sleeping a wink LOL!

I have 30 acres for two horses. 10 acres of that, is a new hay field to maintain our ag tax exemption. If it weren't for the tax benefit, I'd still be buying hay. Making hay on a small acreage is more trouble than its worth. Machinery you can afford to buy is old and breaks when you need it most. The weather is a risk between day job and machine breakdown. A 5 acre field is a lot of trouble to transport machinery to and too small to work in with modern equipment. Unless the farmer lives next door, your field will be a low priority, meaning your hay will be too mature or short on yield.

Your land is more useful as pasture.:D