"It's one of the miracles of nature that this empty-looking land can be of such great use, that cattle can convert its grasses to meat and milk." - Kathleen Norris, Dakota, A Spiritual Geography
- Before there were cars,
trucks and farm equipment, it was workhorses that provided
transporation and helped with work on the farm and in other
industries. Hay was the fuel that made the horses go. Farmers
needed huge quantities of hay for their cattle and their sheep.
Horses used in the mining, lumbering, and road building industries,
and those used for hauling and personal transportation in urban
areas, needed fodder, too. Farmers put up hay for their own
use, and sold the extra in local markets, or baled it and shipped
it to markets further away.
- Haymaking involved cutting, gathering, drying and storing
grasses or legumes, like alfalfa or clover. Hay was best made
during late June, July and August.
- First the hay was cut with a scythe or a mower. Then sun
and wind dried the hay as it lay in the field. When the moisture
content was low enough, the hay was raked up and stored in
stacks in the field or loaded on a hay rack or elevator (conveyor)
and hauled to the yard. Here it could be stored in stacks or
in the mow (loft) of a barn. The loose hay would continue to
dry in the mow and was fed out by pitching it down to the animals
- Most haymaking was done by family members, male and female,
working with neighbors and casual help. Hired men usually got
the heavy work, such as pitching hay or building stacks. Women
and older children often did the raking and drove the teams
of horses. Smaller children brought lunches and cold drinks
to the hayfield.
- Most hay is now baled in huge
round bales, usually by just one person.
- Most round balers
produce bales weighing 600-2000 pounds. The bales are either
left in the field until they are used or moved to a covered
- Sheep and goats will not eat trampled hay. Horses and cattle
are not so picky.
- Oklahoma has excellent conditions for growing hay, which
requires plenty of rain, and then hot dry weather for harvest.
In 2008, hay ranked number five of all the state’s agricultural
- Common plants used for making hay in Oklahoma are alfalfa,
wild and prairie grasses, sorghum/sudan crosses, sudan, bermuda,
lespedeza, soybean, peanut, and small grains like wheat, rye
- Many people confuse
hay with straw. The square bales often sold in the fall for
Halloween decorations are actually bales of straw. Straw is
the stubble that is left after the grains from plants like
wheat, oats and rye are threshed from the plant. It is most
commonly used in animal bedding, as mulch for gardens and,
in some cases, even in the walls of houses.
- Silage consists of green forage preserved by fermentation in a
silo for use as a succulent fodder during periods of feed scarcity.
- Silage is the product of controled fermentation of green fodder
retaining high moisture content. The material is normally stored
in pits under anaerobic conditions. Naturally produced organic
acids, chiefly lactic acid, preserves the fodder. During periods
of abundant green fodder availability, fodder that is surplus to
immediate requirements can be converted to silage and stored
use later in the year.
- Hay making is difficult in some regions because at the time
when the forage is of acceptable qualtiy for forage conservation
to be worthwhile (early in the wet season) the weather may be
too unreliable for sun drying. In these areas silage may be preferable
because it can be made using fresh or wilted material.
- Silage consists of forage, crop residues or agricultural and
industrial by-products that are preserved by acids. These acids
are either added or produced by natural fermentation.
- Fresh forage is harvested, or crop residues and by-products
are collected. The material may be chopped or conditioned, and additives
may be included. It is then stored in the absence of air so that
facultative anaerobic bacteria, naturally present in forage,
or added as innoculants, can rapidly convert soluble carbohydrates
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Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom
Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative
Extension Service, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and
Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.