Hay Making| Composition, Types, Process, Storing


Hay making is the process of turning green, perishable forage into a product that can be safely stored and easily transported without danger of spoilage, while keeping nutrient loss to a minimum. This involves reducing its moisture content from 70 – 90% to 20 – 25% or less

Techniques for natural pasture, sown pasture and crops specifically cultivated for conservation at three levels of technology are considered: manual haymaking; simple mechanization with draught animal power or small tractors; and fully mechanized systems. It is, of course, possible to have some or all of the operations of haymaking done mechanically under contract, provided that the fields are big enough to warrant it; this is feasible where the climate at harvest time can be relied on. In areas of uncertain climate, however, it is less suitable, since equipment must be on hand for each operation as the weather and condition of the hay dictates. Further notes are given in Chapters III to VI, where hay crops are discussed.

The process of drying the green crop without significant change in aroma, flavour and nutritive quality of forage is called “curing“. This involves reducing the moisture content of green forages, so that they can be stored without spoilage or further nutrient loss. 

Feeding hay to livestock helps reduce the amount of concentrate feeding, and thereby, the cost of feeding. The low moisture content of hay considerably reduces cost. Hay can be fed to sheep and goats, both of which are selective feeders. This means that, if enough hay can be made, then the sheep and goats can be fed excess hay.

Problems in haymaking vary according to the crop, climate and prevailing weather at harvest:

– Under sub-humid and humid temperate conditions, the main problems are related to slowness of drying, so, to avoid loss by spoilage, the aim is to dry the crop as quickly as conditions will allow.

– Under hot, dry conditions, in contrast, the problems are more likely to be either shattering of the finer parts of the plant, through too rapid drying, or bleaching, with consequent loss of carotene and vitamins.

The main discussion is on climates where drying is a problem, as these are the most difficult for haymaking. Fine-leaf grasses and legumes are traditional hay crops in most areas but, in the subtropics, hay is made from coarse cereals such as maize and sorghum, now mostly in small-scale farming situations, notably in India and Pakistan. On mechanized farms, nowadays, coarse cereals are usually ensiled.

Where hay is made from pasture, rather than arable crops, the fields may be both grazed and mown at different seasons of the year. If the main output of a field is hay, it will still be grazed when the weather is unsuitable, then left for the forage to reach the correct stage at the optimum season for haymaking; the aftermath may thereafter be grazed. With grazing fields, the immediate requirements of the stock has priority but, at the season of peak grass growth, forage availability outstrips the needs of the herd and the whole or part of fields (shut off by electric fences) may be used opportunistically for hay.

Suitable crops for making hay

Crops with thin stems and more leaves are better suited for haymaking as they dry faster than those with thick, pity stem and small leaves. These may include, among others:

  • Oats
  • Desmodium
  • Lucerne
  • Maize
  • Sorghum
  • Napier grass
  • Rhodes grass



Napier grass

Napier grass

Sorghum bicolor head

Sorghum bicolor head



Leguminous fodder crops (e.g. Cow pea, Lucerne, etc) should be harvested at the flower initiation stage or when crown buds start to grow. Grasses and similar fodder crops should be harvested at the pre-flowering stage. At this stage, the crop has maximum nutrients and green matter. After flowering and seeding, grasses contain fewer nutrients. In order to make the process of curing easier, the fodder should preferably be harvested when air humidity is low.

Grass hay

Grass hay (left) and lucerne hay (right)

Types of hay

Hay may be made in several forms, according to the conditions, its intended use and the level of technology.

– Long hay, the traditional, age-old form of herbage, mown, turned and carted is the main subject of this book.

– Chopped hay is an option where conditions for drying are good and systems highly mechanized; it is less bulky and better for mechanical handling, but must be conditioned, windrowed and collected with a forage harvester.

– Baled hay. Originally baling was by hand (trusses or bottles), and then by stationary machines. It has been automated since the 1950s, with the introduction of the pick-up baler. Big bales which can be individually handled by a tractor-mounted front-end loader are now the main kind in large-scale farming; round bales are the simplest to make and most popular. Their shape sheds rain and resists water better than traditional bales.

– Hand-trussed hay is widespread in manual haymaking, often as a means of reducing shattering.

– Wafered and pelleted hay is dense and free-flowing, so it is easy to transport, handle and store. Field units are available, but expensive; they are used for high-quality legume hay in climates which allow rapid drying. Losses are lower than with baling.

– “Dried grass,” i.e., herbage artificially dried at high temperatures, has been produced from time to time; the process allows conservation of a younger and higher quality material, but it is not currently economically attractive.

– Barn-dried hay. Equipment for fan-assisted drying (with or without additional heat) is now available, but is not widely used.

Basic method of making hay

  • Forage is cut before it is fully mature (long before it has seeded) to maximize its nutritive value. Although cutting hay early will result in lower total volume, the increase in nutritive value will more than compensate for reduced yields.
  • Leaves are more nutritious than the stems, and so when cutting forage, it is important that it is cut with as much leaf and as little stem as possible. 
  • Do not leave cut forage to dry in a moist environment, as this will encourage the growth of moulds. These can be extremely harmful to livestock and to people handling it. 
  • The cut forage is laid out in the sun in as thin a layer as possible, and raked a few times and turned regularly to hasten drying.
  • Chopping forage into small pieces after drying will hasten the dying process.
  • The drying process may take between 2 to 3 days. 
  • Hay should not be over dried as it may start to ferment and also become a fire hazard.
  • The dried hay should ideally be stored in form of bales when the moisture content is low, ideally less than 15%. This helps storage and requires less space. 

Leaves are more nutritious than the stems, and so when cutting forage, it is important that it is cut with as much leaf and as little stem as possible. However, during drying, the leaf (being more brittle) will tend to shatter. Hay should therefore be handled with care, to try and minimize the amount of leaf that is lost in this way. 

Crops with thick and juicy stems can be dried after chaffing to speed up the drying process and to prevent loss of nutrients.

Field curing is conducted during bright sunny weather but may result in bleaching of the forage and loss of leaves due to shattering. To avoid this, drying can be done in barns by passing hot air through the forage. Although artificial drying produces hay of good quality, it is expensive and beyond the reach of small and marginal farmer but can be attempted on a community basis in areas where there is a need, and the necessary facilities.

Storage of hay

  • Hay must be stored in a dry environment. 
  • Hay can be baled and stored under cover or can also be stored by creating hay stacks. These may be created in a field near the source, or close to where the hay will be required later in the year. Stacks may be covered by plastic sheets to keep out rain and prevent from exposure to excessive sun. The surface layer of a stack may also be “thatched”, in the same manner as a thatched roof to a house 

Box baling-Reduce transport costs by a third – box bale your stover

  • Make a box with dimensions 40x50x75 cm. 
  • Put 2 lengths of sisal rope in the box as shown.
  • Put the hay into the box and press it down tightly by jumping on it. (Put in stover and jump on it until as much as possible is in the box)
  • Tie the box securely(Tie up the box)
  • Remove the bale and stack.(Remove the bale. Stack and store with ease.) 


Truck 1 is carrying only 160 kgs of stover

Truck 2 is carrying 260 kgs of stover

The main operations in haymaking

Haymaking methods vary depending on crop and circumstances, but the main operations are more or less the same in all cases:

– mowing, which may be combined with conditioning;

– artificial conditioning for rapid drying. (an innovation, and only sometimes carried out);

– turning and tedding to allow even drying of the swath, help dissipate heat and reduce the danger of mould development and fermentation;

– windrowing, i.e., putting the cut herbage into rows for further handling and collection, and sometimes also for protection at night. In hot arid conditions, windrowing protects the crop against shattering and bleaching;

– trussing or putting into cocks (small heaps) are intermediate stages of drying used in some manual systems; and

– carting and storage, with or without baling. In traditional systems the cured long hay is carted and stored in stacks or barns. Baling before storage is much more common in modern, mechanized systems.

The process of creating hay is completed in multiple stages. Broadly, these steps include:
Growing the hay plant.
Cutting plants.
Drying the cut plants.
Bailing cut plant material.
Storing bales in proper conditions.
The following sections outline these steps in more detail.

Losses in haymaking

To keep losses and spoilage to a minimum, operator skill and experience is essential in giving the attention to detail which is necessary throughout the haymaking process. Much depends on the judgement and experience of the operator. The main way of minimizing loss is to dry the herbage as rapidly and as evenly as possible, and handle it with care thereafter.

Causes of loss include those considered below.

– Fermentation, with losses beginning as soon as the crop is mown. Enzymatic oxidation of the sap and the activity of bacteria and moulds on the crop surface cause losses, with generation of heat. If the crop is not aerated sufficiently to dissipate the heat, serious damage can occur. Turning and tedding must therefore be prompt and adequate.

– Mechanical leaf loss occurs during tedding and field handling.

– Leaching losses occurs if rain falls on the crop during the curing process. Re-wetting of partially dried hay is much more serious than rain on newly-cut herbage, and can cause both leaching and increased mould damage. Should rain be imminent on a partially-dried crop, it should, if possible, be gathered into bigger windrows or cocks.

– Further mechanical loss occurs during collection, transport and baling. Their severity depends partly on the skill of the operator.

– Spoilage in the stack or bale is particularly dangerous, and can lead to the loss of the entire harvest, usually as a result of storing material which is at too high a moisture content in over-large units or poorly designed stacks which allow rain penetration or do not allow some ventilation. The ideal moisture content for stacking or baling depends on the crop and the site, and experience and field judgement must be the general guide. The farmer must judge by feel and make a decision in the light of the prevailing weather: when the herbage feels crisp in the hand and does not show moisture when twisted, it is probably at 25 – 30% moisture and ready to bale. Moisture meters are not generally available nor convenient to use in the field, and taking a representative sample is not easy. Fine-leaved, thin-stemmed herbage dries most quickly; large coarse grasses with thick stems and nodes (e.g., Sudan grass) can still have a lot of juice in the stems after the leaves are quite dry. In extreme cases, the fermentation may raise temperatures to levels where spontaneous combustion occurs. Poorly cured or mouldy hay, apart from losses, will lead to poor intake or refusal by stock, and may contain mycotoxins. Mouldy hay gives rise to the human disease known as “farmers’ lung.”

– Wastage during utilization includes losses from opened stacks and poor feeding techniques. It is dealt with in Chapter X.

Problems with hay making

  • If hay is dried in a moist environment, for example during heavy rains season, mould may grow on the hay. These moulds can be extremely toxic to animals as well as the people handling it. 
  • In such cases it is advisable to wait till the end of the rainy season before cutting the forage. This may lead to lower nutritional content in the hay, but this is better than toxic hay. The resultant may be supplemented with other feeds. 
  • On the other hand, drying the hay too fast may lead to shattering of the delicate parts of the plant, causing a subsequent loss of nutrients. 
  • To avoid this, drying can be done in barns by passing hot air through the forage. Although artificial drying produces hay of good quality, it is expensive, but can be attempted on a community basis in areas where there is a need, and the necessary facilities. (NR International,Livestock Production Programme)
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