Are you wondering how to pick up hay without a baler – or even if it can be done in the first place? The quick answer is yes! You can do all kinds of things with hay without a hay baler – here’s what you need to know.
What You'll Learn Today
What Do Farmers Use to Pick Up Hay?
Before we take a deep dive into picking up hay without a baler, let’s first review the equipment that is typically used.
Most farmers own tractors to haul hay mowers, balers, and other types of equipment. Mowers come in all shapes and sizes, from large trailed mower-conditioners to miniature sickle bar mowers and even self-propelled machines. Many of these are meant to be mounted to a tractor’s 3-point hitch.
After cutting the hay with the mower, the hay will be turned over with a piece of equipment called a hay tedder. This spreads and turns over the loose hay in the field, helping to accelerate the drying process. Before bailing, the hay has to be raked into windrows with a hay rake.
Finally, balers. Farmers will use round balers or square balers depending on their needs and the type and size of tractor they have. The balers help bring all the hay together and can then also wrap the bales to make for easier handling. Generally, net wrap or twine is used.
If you aren’t going to use a tractor to pick up or cut hay, you will need to get more creative. A scythe can be used to cut the hay while a hay fork can be used to pick up the hay after it has dried.
Can You Bale Hay By Hand?
If you are fortunate enough to own or otherwise have access to a local hayfield, you should count yourself lucky. Good pastures or hayfields can be hard to come by.
However, if you don’t have a tractor, you might assume your options are limited. The good news is that you can bale by hand and without the use of mechanical equipment. You’ll just break more of a sweat!
Why Bale Hay By Hand?
There are a few advantages to baling hay by hand. This process works well if you don’t need that much hay (or if you don’t have that many animals).
If you’re raising a herd of 50 beef cows, baling hay by hand probably isn’t going to make much sense for you. You won’t sleep at all during the haying season! However, if you just need some hay for bedding for a few animals, then hand baling makes a lot of sense.
It can save you a great deal of money if you don’t have to buy a tractor or other types of equipment. You also won’t have to worry about maintaining a tractor and equipment – a huge advantage.
Plus, if you bale by hand, you may be able to access areas where a tractor or a baler can’t reach. It’s more eco-friendly and sustainable for the long run.
Cutting the hay is the first step in the process. Most people take their first cutting of hay sometime in May (earlier in the month for southern states and later in the month for those in more northern climates).
Farmers cut the hay using a scythe, swinging the blade parallel to the ground in an arc. The swing can be followed back to repeat cuts on grass that has been knocked over yet not cut. You should cut a small amount of hay at a time to make sure your blows are as efficient as possible.
Cutting hay with a scythe is exhausting, especially if you have large amounts to cut. However, the sharper you keep your scythe, the better.
How Do You Rake Hay Into Windrows?
Once hay is dry enough to be baled, it is first raked into large piles called windrows. This will help the hay dry even more – and faster. Here’s a video that will show you how to rake hay into windrows.
This is done with conventional haying equipment but you can also do it by hand.
To rake hay without any machinery, you will need a regular rake. Any old garden rake will do temporarily but eventually you may want to upgrade to a hay rake. These are different from garden rakes because the prongs are spaced further apart and are blunted so they don’t get caught in the hay.
Drying Your Hay
You shouldn’t pick up your hay as soon as it’s been cut. Instead, it needs to dry. This will help prevent the formation of mold, which can make livestock who eat it and people who breathe in the odors quite sick.
Leave the hay in the windrows for a day. Then, return and flip the windrows over. This will make sure that both sides are dry. You may need to flip it once or twice more to get it dry.
Once it’s dry, it will have a nice green color yet will not feel damp when you touch it. The time it takes to dry your hay will vary depending on the weather conditions, including how sunny or humid it is. This is why it’s so important to only cut hay when you have a few nice days of weather forecasted!
How to Pick Up Hay Without a Baler
Once the hay is dry, you can pick it up. Since it will still be in windrows, one of the easiest ways to gather it is simply to drive around with your truck to scoop the hay up into the bed. No bailing necessary! You could also use a team of horses to pick up your hay
The disadvantage of not baling your hay before picking it up is that it can make storage a bit more difficult, resulting in more waste. Tarp the pile of hay before you drive back to the farm with it. Once you get there, you can keep it covered with tarp (as long as it’s off the ground).
You can also store your hay on old pallets (again, with a tarp). Picking up hay by hand without a baler is a great task for a young child, since the hay will be loose and lightweight.
What Do You Pick Up Hay With?
Most people pick up hay bales with a tractor and a loading wagon. However, you certainly don’t have to rely on these pieces of equipment to get this crucial farm chore done! Lots of people still bale and pick up hay by hand.
It might not be fun – but it’s a great workout and certainly worth it when you consider the money you will save by having to buy hay for your livestock from someone else.
Let us know in the comments – what do you pick up hay with?