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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink How can I make and store loose hay?


Answer: Here is some information on making and storing loose hay.

Principles of hay management

Cut hay while the grass is vegetative for highest quality. Allow the hay to field dry in windrows, and turn the windrows with a rake if necessary to enhance drying. Try to minimize the amount of hay handling in the field. As the hay dries, it is more susceptible to leaf shatter and a subsequent decline in forage quality.

Store the hay on gravel, rock, or a similar surface that will encourage drainage and minimize standing water. Remember to keep stored hay dry, as rain will leach nutrients away and lower forage quality. Hay stored outside will lose as much as 25 percent of its nutrients due to weathering. Hay stored inside will lose far less (around 5 percent of dry matter). If a loose stack is stored outside, place it on gravel, rock, or on poles to keep it off the ground (hay will wick up water and forage quality will decline). Cover the stack with a tarp and weigh down with poles, tires, etc.


Some of the equipment you will need for making and storing loose hay includes a sickle bar mower or scythe (for hand applications) and a buck rake for gathering loose hay from the field. The buck rake could be attached to the front of a truck or tractor. Some buck rake applications are raised and lowered hydraulically. Also of necessity is a hay fork for stacking hay. The hay fork could be as small as a hand fork to manually construct stacks, or incorporated into a block and tackle to lift heavier loads. Hay forks were commonly used on farms with barn-loft hay mows. For larger operations, a hay grapple might be appropriate. This hydraulically-operated device is usually attached to a front-end loader on a tractor. The hay grapple is used for picking up loose hay for feeding of livestock.

Stacking hay

Loose hay is often stacked in the field, and is called stooks or shocks. These are complex constructions designed to shed water and allow for compression of hay as moisture content declines. Other methods for storing loose hay are hay mows (hand-stacked in barn lofts) and beaverslides. Beaverslides are still used by many ranches in western Montana. Hay is cut and raked into windrows with horses or modern equipment, then transported to the beaverslide with buckrakes fitted to tractors, or more commonly, to a small truck chassis. The beaverslide, operated by pulleys, picks up the loose hay and flips it into a large stack. After stack construction, the beaverslide is disassembled and the stack is fenced off from cattle and elk, to be fed later in the winter. For more information on stacking loose hay, including beaverslides, see the Resources below.

The information in the Resources section is from the perspective of haying with horsedrawn equipment. The methods explained in these publications can easily be adapted to small-scale machines or even hand harvest.


Scythe Network. 2005. Loose Ways of Making Leafy Loose Hay. New Brunswick, Canada.

Although not specifically about the use of scythes, the principles of the follow-up steps in handling the cut forage and curing it—so that the resulting hay is nutritious and can be safely stored—are the same. Many of the hints are in fact applicable to baled hay as well, though this feature is obviously written for those who store their hay loose, whether they use a scythe or a horsedrawn sicklebar mower. (from the Abstract)

Ernst, Lisa and Alexandra Swaney. The Beaverslide: Homegrown Haying Technology. Montana Arts Council.

Miller, Lynn. Haying With Horses. Sisters, OR: Small Farmer’s Journal.
368 pages, Soft Cover, Illustrated. Price: $32.95 368 pages, Soft Cover, Illustrated. 800-876-2893

A new practical reference text with 1,000 illustrations covering all aspects of Haymaking with Horses and Mules in harness. Offering in-depth information on Mowers, Rakes, Hayloaders, Buckrakes, Stackers, Tracks and Trollies for barns, Hay Fork systems, Balers, Wagons, Feed Sleds, and Forecart adaptations etc. And covering the building of loose hay stacks and wagon loads. Unloading systems, and feeding systems are also covered. 368 pages, Soft Cover, Illustrated. Price: $32.95

Small Farmer’s Journal
192 W. Barclay Drive
P.O. Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759

A small family-held company doing business in agricultural periodical and book publishing, natural farming and stock raising, alternative farm research/inquiry, horsedrawn implement research & development horsedrawn equipment sales, and related education.



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