After 20 years, we finally succeeded in baling a significant amount of dry quality dairy hay. There are several reasons we have not done this in the past; foremost being we were always short of feed anyway so why not buy dry hay from South Dakota and chop the acres we have for haylage? Second, we own a self-propelled chopper, but we do not own a round baler or a large square baler. All we have is a 1983 New Holland 273 small square baler. Lastly, the weather in our area the last 5-10 years has barely allowed us time to chop alfalfa let alone get it dry enough to bale.
    This year, we have good supplies of all forages. Our corn silage pile has not even started on the downhill slope to the back, and we are less than a month away from chopping new crop corn. We have a such a large supply of forage sorghum that we are selling five to eight semi loads a week to neighboring farms who are short of feed. Our first three cuttings on 700 acres of alfalfa were very good, so we decided to bale 150 acres of that. We also have another 300 acres of new seeding alfalfa that we will take a second cutting off as soon as the insecticide used to kill the potato leaf hoppers is past the 14-day withholding time.
    The 300 acres of new seeding has been somewhat disappointing as far as yield. It is the high-priced Harv Extra variety, meaning it is supposed to hold high protein quality on a three-cut season. It can show blooms and retain fine stem, high protein yields. We have an excellent stand, and I sprayed it early to control the weeds. When we cut the first crop in late June, only one-fifth of the two fields yielded good. At first, we suspected dicamba type damage from neighboring soybean fields, but we are not sure what really happened. The fertility and soil pH are very good, and the stand is clean and excellent, so we are hoping that second cutting is a lot better.
    We decided Monday morning, while cutting third cutting, that this might be the perfect time to try and bale dairy quality hay off 150 acres of a fifth-year stand. The alfalfa was good yet, and last year we interseeded into the whole field 5 pounds of Italian ryegrass to strengthen the stand for last year and this year. The whole field seemed perfect to bale as the bit of added Italian ryegrass would help the hay dry faster, and the smell of the drying hay was luscious. We are short of room at the dairy feed center so we decided we could round bale it and stack the round bales in strategic corners of the field by driveways and yet out of the way of the manure draglines. We plan on chopping a fourth cutting (if it rains), then get a little regrowth, then desiccate with Roundup and 2,4-D, then dragline 15,000 gallons of manure on late fall in preparation for a corn crop.
    We cut our hay with a 33-foot triple mower with rubber conditioning rolls. It lays out wide swaths for drying. This hay was cut late Sunday evening, and it was not rained on. We had a lot of sun except Wednesday. The leaves were dry by Tuesday night, but some of those green stems just stayed the same with our higher humidity. On Wednesday afternoon, under heavy cloud cover, I took a chance and merged every three swaths into a high fluffy windrow to get those green stems off the ground. Thursday’s forecast was sunny but not breezy, and it was still not ready to bale on Thursday. Fortunately, the weather held, and by Friday, the hay was perfect for baling. Seth came to round bale it.
    He baled 251 large, round bales in a few hours which will be fed up in 58 days to our 2,000 milking cows. It only comprises 6% of their dry matter intake. In those same few hours, I dragged out my seldom used New Holland small square baler, and Wes, Vince and I baled and unloaded 85 idiot bales for a few show calves. I had an old mechanic friend of mine work on the knotter of the square baler this past winter because I could not get it to work right. Last Friday, it was again missing every other bale on the right side because the knot was hanging up in the billhook. I consulted the old owners manual and adjusted the billhook tension by one turn, and it never missed a tie after that. I was so happy that, between the mechanic and I, we now have a baler capable of baling enough hay for a 20-cow herd provided we have a silo full of corn silage to go with it. That is how we fed cows 50 years ago.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minnesota. Send him feedback at Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.