Is it worth setting aside a paddock to make your own hay / haylage?
The advantage of making your own forage is that you can ensure it's free of harmful plants and, if you have a forage analysis carried out, you’ll know its exact nutritional value.
To make hay, the grass is traditionally shut up for grazing between April and May – given good weather, this will give the grass sufficient time to grow and give a good crop. Depending on the vagaries of the weather, you can then expect to make hay from late June, when it will be at its most nutritious. Later cut hay will still provide valuable fibre in the sheep’s diet, but will be lower in protein.
Hay needs 4/5 days of dry weather; you cannot bale and store damp hay, as it will go mouldy and spoil, or, it can heat up and spontaneously combust!. Depending on the quality of your grass, and the weather, you can expect to get between 75 and 100 small bales per acre, each weighing approximately 20 kilos. Remember, unless you can sell your hay off the field, you’ll need somewhere under cover to store your harvest.
Few smallholders will have all the equipment needed for haymaking, so a reliable contractor, who will also have the experience to judge the timing, is essential:
- Firstly, the hay will be mown – ideally just before the grass sets seed, when it's at its most nutritious
- Next, it will be turned, or ‘tedded’, several times over the course of a few days to bake in the sun and ensure that it dries evenly (but doesn’t get too dry)
- Then it will be ‘rowed up’ and baled – make sure you ask your contractor to make ‘small bales’ as large bales are impossible to manage without handling equipment
- Hopefully, you will now have some really good friends to help you get the bales under cover!
The grass should begin to grow again quite quickly, and this ‘aftermath’ will provide excellent ‘clean’ grazing for newly weaned lambs.
Silage is made when the grass is cut and just wilted, then either stored in a clamp, or more commonly these days, baled and wrapped in airtight polythene and stacked. It’s important to keep air out, or the contents will spoil. Any foul-smelling silage should not be fed to livestock, as it could indicate the presence of harmful bacteria.
Haylage is drier than silage, and is made in wrapped bales to preserve its moisture content. It usually provides higher energy and protein levels than hay, but like silage, once the bale is opened, it needs to be used up fairly quickly.
If you would like to make your own hay without the use of a contractor, there are mini balers available that can be used in small paddocks.
For further information, please see the DVD 'Managing Your Flock for Peak Health'