August 2007 Article for Saskatchewan Hay Report
Production of Quality Hay in Central Alberta:
Since we at AllanHay.com primarily focus on producing hay that will meet the requirements and specifications of the equine industry, mold-free hay with minimal dust is an absolute necessity. That being said, weather is still the greatest challenge and determining factor in the quality of the final product.
The most distinguishing element that maintains the popularity of our hay with the horse people is the fact that we try to make sure that the hay is ready to bale before it is baled. By observation, there has been a lot of hay in our area baled before it is really ready this year. With a very high soil moisture level, high humidity and frequency of thundershowers the temptation is to get out there and bale to beat a shower. What was nice green hay now becomes moldy in the bale. We prefer to take a bit of bleaching from more sun and a shower than to end up with a poorer quality product due to premature baling. A bleached sample is better than a moldy one any day!
Most of our hay is baled between 12-15% moisture. We will bale straight grasses lower than that but try not to bale anything with alfalfa in it below 12% to minimize leaf shattering. All tedding and raking of alfalfa and alfalfa mixes is done when moisture content is over 20%. A minor percentage of our hay will have hay preservative added if the moisture content happens to go over 16%. This allows us to go through heavier low spots and along tree windbreaks or fence lines without running the risk of ending up with mold in those bales. If inclement weather is imminent we will bale up to 22% to beat a rain with the benefits of having an automatic moisture sensor and hay preservative applicator on the baler.
Being that we focus on the equine market the mix in a forage blend needs to be suited for the average horse feeder. We have found that our alfalfa/timothy/brome blend has been very well received. On an average to better than average year we will get two cuttings. For those customers who want no alfalfa in their ration we have fields of basically straight timothy. Another popular forage mix for feedlots starting calves out on feed is our creeping red fescue/brome mix. This provides fine textured hay that meets the approval of cattlemen getting calves on feed.
With the recognition in the dairy industry of the benefits of low potassium hay for late gestation cows we are now tailoring our fertility program for more than just yield. On those fields of timothy that dairies have been buying from for this segment of their lactating herd we now are watching our potassium levels more closely. While we may sacrifice some yield we are broadening our market base for our timothy hay.
Soil samples are professionally taken and analyzed through the services of our contracted agronomist. We try to have the recommendations reviewed and submitted to our fertilizer supplier shortly after the snow has gone. Timing of fertilizer application has been found to be critical. Ideally, we have the fertilizer floated on the day before an incoming rain system. With the loss of ammonium nitrate since 9-11 and the need to now use urea the relationship between application and precipitation is more critical than ever. (Urea tends to be more volatile and gasses off much more readily.)
Cutting begins at first blossom in alfalfa. We try not to have too much on the ground at a time. Generally, we try not to go over 15% of our hay acreage base down at any one time. In our area a lot of storms come through in the month of July and we don't like to have too many eggs in any one basket. Once we get to mid-July we start cutting timothy and try to have some timothy and some alfalfa down simultaneously. The fields are spread out over a few miles so we try to have about three areas with hay down at any given time so that if there is a thunder shower in one area there is a possibility that one of the other two areas were missed and we can keep on haying.
We now have gone to only baling with a round baler and all bales are net-wrapped. With the use of a Haukaas Quick Pick 10 Bale Mover we row our bales in twin rows about 12 feet apart and running straight north and south. We have found that the weather loss in this method of storage is minimal. The spacing between the rows and the direction of the rows allows the sun and air movement to keep the bales dried out all the time. We group the bales in bunches of 34 which is the same size as one of our tractor/trailer loads. (Not having to do any tarping any more is a real blessing!)
For the buyers who still need or prefer small square bales we access the inventories of neighbours and friends in the area and help them move their product. The same is true when we sell out of our own round bales as well. In the fall we put up or buy straw locally to serve the demand for that commodity. The introduction of a 34 bale self unloading round bale trailer to our business last year has increased the demand for our product and services considerably.
We entered the forage market in Central Alberta in the 1970s. Originally located at Bentley, Alberta until 1987 we served the area primarily with small square bales delivered in 160 bale lots on a truck with a stack retriever. Having moved out of farming for a number of years from 1987 to 2002 it has been great to get back in the industry and establish mostly a new customer base from our new base of operations near Sylvan Lake, Alberta. We are now farming cooperatively with a friend and share the use of equipment and rent land together. Many things had changed in the ag industry during that 15 year time frame but the people haven't. Our business is primarily based on customer relations and service. Each customer is important to us whether they have one horse on their acreage or are milking 800 cows in their dairy. We have both types of customers in our clientele and everything in between. We try to give them all the same kind of care and attention.