This year we’ll spend a little above $10,000 for hay for the cattle, not counting about $1500 for low-quality bedding hay for the pigs. Unlike the chicken feed, which costs a few thousand bucks every month or two, the summer hay bills all hit at once. Buying from neighbors adds a little cushion since everyone understands that we run short, but we don’t want to push the community line of credit too far either. Robert Frost could have added “Good payments make good neighbors” to Mending Wall. Shown above is a small portion of the hay we’re stockpiling for next winter.
One of the things I’ve tried over the last few years is planting annual grasses to allow us to supplement our summer grazing in order to stockpile for fall grazing. In theory this cuts down hay bills. In my limited experience, this just seems to add tractor work and seed bills.
This year I planted sorghum sudangrass. It went in late due to a wet spring, so we got our first grazing this week. Some spots were spectacularly deep green and four feet tall, but most of the field was just ankle high due to early summer flooding. It seems that unless we had better soils (soils that could consistently worked earlier than mid-June as is the case here), we really shouldn’t be messing with annuals. There are some years when annual crops could work well, but yields are so sporadic that many years I don’t think I’d come close to breaking even. Two acres of sudangrass yielded two days of grazing for 49 head of cattle (calves, cows, and finishers). I’ll get one more grazing before frost finishes it off. For the cost of the seed and the time spent discing and planting, I’d be much better off with even a low-grade weedy pasture. Still, this is a useful lesson to learn. Everyone at all the grassfed conferences and magazines wants to promote cropping and “forage chains”, but it is helpful to try and to fail, so I can learn practically what this climate and geography can support.