Monday, October 10, 2011

Hay Season

The temperatures have finally moderated and we had some decent rainfall this weekend. Yay! The much-needed rain will help with the fire danger and start the long journey back to full ponds, lakes and reservoirs.
The drought damage, though, will extend well beyond this season. Warm-season grass that should be matured and going to seed now to produce new grass in the spring withered long ago.  The rain is too late to help our native Bermuda and too early to jumpstart the cool-season grasses. Still, it’s more than welcome.

The horses have munched through the pastures with the best grass. There are three other pastures they can graze but the grass in those is sparse and poor. I’d put off mowing them – that is until last week. The first pasture I’ve tackled is 8 acres I bought off a neighbor who moved a couple of years ago. The neighbor used to run a couple of cows and a horse on it, but it hasn’t been mown often. I did give it a rough mow last year and was pleased with the amount of good grass in it. I had expected a good crop this year, too.
Yep, gotta mow around all those trees up ahead.
It’s fenced, but it’s old fencing: a combination of rusted barbed wire and even rustier field fence. The steel T-posts holding the fence up are weary-looking but solid for the most part. The mid-posts and corner-posts, though, are wood, and many of them either were burnt by a grass fire a dozen years ago or are simply decaying.
My plan was to string an electric fence inside the perimeter to keep the horses away from the rusting fence line. In normal soil, the extremely lightweight, fiberglass posts are easy to set. The ones I bought even have a convenient ridge built in that you step on to drive the post about a foot into the ground. This, however, isn’t normal soil. No way I could set the new posts into ground as hard as concrete. So I mowed the acreage and let the horses into the pasture, hoping that the game of finding a few blades of grass amid the weeds will keep them entertained enough they don’t go rubbing their backsides against the fence to give themselves a good scratch and wind up getting cut on the rusty barbs.
I’m not sure the ground will be softened enough after this bout of rain to drive in the posts. So far, the horses are behaving themselves and thoroughly enjoying being in a pasture they’ve not had access to before.
The brush pile is waiting for a calm day just after a rain to be burned and buried. It's been waiting now for nearly a year.
A couple of the acres have a lot of trees on them. I’ve tried to leave as many seedling native pears as I can in a small grove but that means tedious mowing to get around them. It takes me, on average, about an hour to mow an acre. The cut grass has to dry for a couple of days before being baled – or bagged, which is what I do since I don’t have expensive baling equipment. I use a large grass sweeper that collects the grass but doesn’t bag it. I still have to circle back around and hand bag all the hay.  To mow, rake and stuff 50 bags of hay takes me the better part of 5 days.
It's a John Deere with a 5-foot drag-behind mower (aka brush hog)

The brush hog in action!
Fifty bags of poor-quality hay will last maybe 2 months if I s-t-r-e-t-c-h it out. I’ll mix it with a like amount of good-quality, purchased hay; add in 3 or 4 dozen bags of leaves (they’ll be dropping soon enough!); and supplement with plenty of grain. Goats and horses will do fine.
Once the ground dries out, I’ll tackle the other two pastures and bag up maybe another 30 bags of hay. Whoo! It’s a good workout. The best thing? Just look at the sunsets after a long day’s work!


lexcade said...

Oh wow. That's a LOT of work, Phoenix! I guess I should plan my move, huh ;)

I love reading about the farm!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hurry!!!! I need help! :o)

Evil Editor said...

No, you need a vacation.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Say what? "Vacation?" Just like an editor to use big words no one's ever heard of...

Karen said...

Beautiful pix - always interesting to hear about the farm. Sounds like it's keeping you plenty busy!

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hey Phoenix,
You're making me homesick. The challenges and struggles of keeping a place and the critters going are many.

So happy to read a little moisture hit.

I'll be interested in how you keep the critters going with little/no grazing over the winter.

In hard hay times I'd use cubes and oat straw. I was always able to get my hands on good hay so the horses never wanted. I did a lot of experimenting though. As a breeder I wanted the best for my stallions and mares.

Cubes with/without oats, timothy/alfafa blend, I tried beet pulp (nasty stuff,SOAK it for any civilians out there before serving)and I learned how make up a sweet feed treat for the bottomless pits.

Good days they were.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Mac: Oh yes, there are "bale-in-a-bag" options of compressed timothy hay sold in the local feed store. And I use the alfalfa cubes as treats. There's also a processed pelleted feed for older horses that combines grain and roughage. They're not supposed to need grass/hay at all, so it'll do the others in a pinch. Lyssa, my 20-year-old mare is supposed to be on that to prevent another episode of choke, but she loathes it. I have to mix it with sweet feed. There's also pelleted alfalfa. Not much beet pulp makes it down to the south, but I know some cattle ranches use it when they can get it.

With all those (expensive) options available, the horses will do better than fine over winter even if they only get half rations of poor quality hay to maintain their roughage quota. In fact, right now I'm supplementing them with one meal a day of a sweet feed, cracked corn, alfalfa pellet mixture. And yes, the vet and the books say my littlest stud should be getting no more than 1/4-1/2 cup of grain per feeding. Ha! Double ha! The wild rabbits I throw grain to get more than that and he knows it, the little beggar ;o)

What's distressing is that the economy is really poor right now. I can afford the expensive options to tide my beasties over but many in my county and in Texas aren't going to be able to. There's going to be a lot of suffering this winter. I can probably stretch our supplies to accommodate another one or two mouths if need be.