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Here's the hay I mowed yesterday. You'll notice that I didn't come close to mowing all the field. Not even sorta close.
You can't see it all from here - the mowed strip goes almost as far behind me as in front of me here.
The drying grass is still quite green. Good hay is still green when you put it up.
Here's a closeup.
Here's a different species of grass. This is a multi - species pasture / hayfield.
Here's a little farther off closeup.
You know the saying, "Make hay while the sun shines"?
Five minutes of rain on this down grass would take over half the total nutrition out of it.
If it rains on this, I'll leave it on the ground to sheet compost. It's worth more there than as animal feed.
Since we have over 20 acres of grass and exactly two grass - eating animals, I can easily afford to leave rained-on hay to compost. Before the summer ends we'll get some made.
This mowed strip will make, just guessing, between 45 and 75 small square bales.
Balers are adjustable.
When I was 40, and had a helper who was 21 and a big moose, I made 75 or 80 pound bales.
Now I'm within a month of 72, and lift and tote alone or with my skinny elderly wife, and I make bales at about 40 pounds.
I'd far prefer to stack two 40 pound bales than one 80 pounder.
That's also the reason I mow these narrow strips. I can do so much work on a hot sunny day, and not much more. I'm not in this to kill myself.
Taking hay off the land removes fertility, sure as growing corn or soybeans. Heck, corn is just another grass. Rice too. Oats. Wheat.
Any vegetation you remove from the land is made out of, among other things, bio-available minerals which were in the land. Lots of nitrogen. Protein is just nitrogen spun into fancy shapes.
Potassium, too. Phosphorus. These are "fertilizers."
Plant parts.
When I moved here, this land was pretty sparse. G had allowed men to take off the hay in return for providing her with enough to feed her stock. She was farming it alone, mostly. Like me, she grew up in a city and was learning as she went along.
Modern hay making, like most modern agriculture, is focused on big yields and mechanical handling. In the case of hay that means big round bales stored outdoors.
On average a minimum of 40% of every big bale stored on the ground outdoors is lost to molds and fungus. Spoilage.
This means you can make as much animal feed from 6 acres of square bales stored indoors as from 10 acres of big round bales. As much feed from 60 acres carefully managed as from 100 acres of slap-dash.
But that's only half the story.
Animals who eat moldy hay don't thrive.
I don't know a mathematical formula for the cost of feeding donkeys or horses cruddy hay. They're relatively fragile digestive systems. You can kill them.
Cows with their 4 big internal vats (stomachs) full of bacteria can digest moldy hay better, but it's still not the same.
One of the dirty secrets of "high-yielding" highly industrialized, mechanized, and chemicalized modern agriculture is the huge amount of waste it requires.
We've got 28 acres, two elderly people, and a powerful aversion to waste.
So the first thing I needed to do was fertilize.
But I don't like salt fertilizers or harsh chemicals.
So what I did was, I let the grass get tall and mowed it.
All over the farm.
Over and over.
Perennial grasses draw some of their fertility from the topsoil, but they also draw some from the subsoils. Deep roots.
And when that grass lays on the surface and decomposes the majority of all that fertility is deposited on the topsoil.
Decomposing organisms also process organic matter in the grass, and as if by magic, the longer I mowed it and left it, the richer the soils became.
Mowing is a mechanical analogy to herds of grazers, except the grazers pre-process the grass, depositing it in a once-digested form, which then other decomposing organisms add to the soil. It's a more complete and faster process, but was out of our reach at this stage of life.
Mowing (or grazing, and also burning) also encourages grasses and some forbs, and strongly discourages woody invaders. So frequent mowing has reset the biological state of the place to one we prefer.
This is why I want to get a team of donkeys and a one horse mower.
Here's a video from the manufacturer I plan to buy from, although it's mostly about their larger mowers.
Here's just the one horse one.
I already asked the guy, and he can ship me the one horse mower outfitted for a team donkey hitch.
Two donkeys can easily handle a one horse load.
As you can see from this example, technological advances not only could and would continue without high speed, high energy power sources, it is continuing, even now, although largely hidden from public view.
The only problem with frequently mowing with tractors is the waste.
If I mowed all the grass frequently, to fertilize the land, and periodically removed a certain amount of it from the richest areas to power the process, there would be far less waste in the system.
I would like to learn how to handle loose - unbaled - hay with as little waste. Baling is a high energy process and, at my scale, requires fossil fuels.
One day at a time.
The plan is to rake this hay in the morning, let it finish curing for a few hours, bale, and haul.
It is my hope that Abe will be able to power the haul, but if he runs out of steam G will have to drive the littlest tractor and pull the big trailer.
Either way, the old fart will get a workout. Good for the body and soul.
--jeff out
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