When grass is mown with the scythe it will inevitably end up laying in windrows (photos 2, 3).
Depending on regional customs, these rows are then spread by hand, with a hay fork, hay rake or with the scythe. The drying process depends on maturity, density and composition of the stand and, of course, on weather conditions. We can speed up the process in two ways:
a) through initial spreading, i.e. the more uniformly the grass is spread the more effectively it will begin to dry.
b) “tedding”, i.e. turning with a hay rake to expose ever new surfaces to the effects of sun and wind. Obviously, the more often the grass is turned the faster it will dry.
In areas where rains are frequent, various methods of protecting the partly dried forage have been devised. They all entail the consolidating of the material so that only a small portion is exposed to external moisture. Most of them provide for the curing process to continue, often for many days or even weeks.
The simplest method is the building of so-called “cocks”: shapely piles sitting simply on the mown stubble – previously discussed in Loose Ways of Making Leafy Loose Hay.
Considerable improvements are those systems that make use of some simple wooden or wire structure, elevating the curing hay above the ground. Of the several methods we’ve tried here in New Brunswick, Canada (where summer rains are very frequent) the following is our favourite one.
Curing Hay on Racks
The dimensions of our average racks are: uprights 1.5m/5ft; cross bars 1.2m/4ft. However, we use smaller (for shorter or less dry hay) as well as larger ones (photos 4, 5).
After sufficient pre-drying (to perhaps 30-40% moisture) the hay is gathered into piles close to the rack. Hay forks and wooden rakes are both used to accomplish this step. (photo 6).
Begin by laying the hay on the lower bars (photo 7).
Continue adding hay alternately to both sides, keeping it fairly level. Packing down should be minimal, especially if the hay’s “readiness to be racked” is borderline, i.e., nearer the 35-40% moisture content (photo 8).
Keeping the top wide, level and slightly conical, continue in that manner. How much more is added once the top of the rack is no longer visible depends again on how dry the hay is. Because this section will receive less air circulation than the sides below, the driest forkfuls should go here (photo 1o). This batch of hay is relatively dry (25-30% moisture) so considerably more can be added from this point on (photo 11).
Add a final cap. Save the wettest/dampest hay for this. The cap, if carefully draped over the top, will shed rain and hold down the rest of the hay in windy weather. The work area should be raked up cleanly. You can do this just before the cap is put on and stick these “scraps” under it. Here, at the bottom edge of the rack, the hay is barely touching the ground. (Actually, if it weren’t touching, it would allow for more efficient drying; often when finished we remove the lowest 4″ or so for this reason (photo 12).
The space beneath is big enough to crawl through and allows air to circulate throughout (photo 13).
How much hay can be cured on one of these racks? We have weighed some average ones which were ready for storage in the barn (20% or less moisture). They were around 70 kg. (150 lb.) each. Small racks (built with greener hay, especially very early or very late in the season,) may be only 35 kg. (80 lb.), while large ones may be over 100 kg. (200-300 lb.)
“Homesteaders” without draft animals, wagons or pick-up trucks can haul in the hay on garden carts. I can put 140 kg. (300 lb.) of loose hay – about two racks –on a standard sized cart, but it takes some skill to build the load so it won’t topple over and is well-balanced, thus relatively easy to pull. (On uneven ground a rope tied tightly across the top helps considerably.) Here, cured hay is loaded onto a cart (photos 15, 16).
The donkey comments, “What a nice jackass hauling in our winter feed”! (photos 16, 17)
In our climate it would be unrealistic to expect that exposed (i.e. spread to dry) and partially cured hay will never get rained on. Especially if the cut grass was relatively young (i.e. early in the season) or it is/was mature grass which had not yet had a chance to dry very much after being cut, I do not worry about it getting a shower or two. It may turn brown from the top, but if handled carefully thereafter will still be leafier and more palatable than hay we could buy.
To prevent leaf shattering, we carefully rake it up into rows with some dew on it (i.e. shortly after sun-up or in the evening). If it still contains enough internal moisture we put it on racks; otherwise bring it straight into the barn.
In photos 18 and 19, such weathered hay is being raked up. This batch was deliberately left to turn extra-brown to provide a contrast background to the lettering of our “war protest artwork“.
(Faye is seen in photo 18 working between the letter A and the peace symbol, near the bottom of the sign. Ashley, near the top end within the dove, is making rough piles which were left to “air out” during the day and picked up toward evening when the dew began to creep in again (photo 19).
Photos 20 to 23 illustrate another racking sequence. For this long-stemmed hay a two-crossbar rack is enough, although in this case the final shape turned out lopsided–something that should be avoided.
Apart from being of various sizes, the finished shapes are not all the same. After a week of rain and wind these racks have settled, as they always do. The one in the foreground has retained the ideal shape better than the two behind it. Grass cut after that week, having been spread for a day, is being raked up and consolidated into piles for the next racks (photo 24)
Another example of well-shaped racks is given in photo 25.
Photo 26 ilustrates a rack that was a little more squat and had a thin layer of greener hay added on top, something we occasionally do for better weather protection.
Fairlight and Ashley performing farmer’s style aerobics on a frosty September morning. Making hay out of grass this mature is not exactly what we plan to do, but it happens… At that time of year in this location, getting grass to cure well enough to be baled, or even brought in loose by the conventional methods, would be nearly impossible. This, in addition, is a slightly wet field of predominantly reed canary grass which produces a lot of succulent second growth after the first generation has gone to seed. With this system we can still turn this crop into hay which our donkeys like very much – and actually prefer to June-made clover hay (photo 27).
Nobody else around these parts makes hay for nearly five months out of the year. We start when the dandelions are still blooming (late May) and finish the last scraps in October when the snow is beginning to fly (photo 28).