Over the past week, we have been busy with our grass seed harvest. Grass seed is an important crop in our rotation on the farm and we have been growing this specialist crop successfully for many years. Back in 1968 a very wet winter had just caused too many Sugar Beet head aches for my late Grandfather, Eric, and the decision was made to remove it from the rotation as too much damage was being done to our prized asset on the farm, the soil! Grandfather had to find a replacement and it was suggested to him to grow Ryegrass for specialist seed contracts. It was a minor crop in those days with many unknowns but Grandfather and our fathers persevered and we are still doing it today. We grow two varieties, both ryegrasses, one for golf course fairways and football pitches, the other is more coarse and is used for grazing mixes for livestock.
I have recorded this harvest and I thought I would just explain the full process as quickly as possible!
A Step by Step guide to the Grass Seed Harvest and Hay-making Experience:
1. The sun shines and the grass matures and dries out in the field.
2. When we think it is looking fit, we take a hand rubbed seed sample (i.e. we rub a handful of ryegrass heads in our hands. Few seeds falling out is an instant fitness failure) and then we do a moisture test on the resulting pile of seed with a heat lamp tester. (Pictured) This uses a system of weights to work out the amount of moisture that has been removed by the heat of the lamp within a certain length of time. Eventually, the correct percentage of moisture v seed is reached in the samples and it really IS fit to combine.
3. When it is ready, the combine goes into the field with its special header. The header is a unique bit of equipment called a Shelbourne Reynolds Stripper Header. It works like a giant hoover head, literally combing the grass stalks, stripping the seed heads and sucking the seed off the plant into the combine. The grass is very close to the ground and the header lifts it up off the floor with its high speed, fingered, rotor pulling only about 10% of the crop up into the combine, the rest (minus all the seed) is left standing in the field.
4. The tank fills up and is emptied when full, which normally takes about 40 minutes. When emptying the tank we have to prevent the wind blowing the seed away between the combine auger and the trailer in which it is to be caught, so we have bought a high sided grain trailer and in high winds use a wind sock to prevent any loss over the edge.
5. The seed is brought back to the farm straight away, as it is moist and warm. If left, it heats up even more and sweats, which can cause germination problems and affect the final quality.
6. The seed is levelled off over a special floor back at the farm. This floor has air ducts sunk into it and we have a high-powered fan that blows dry, ambient air through the seed. This rapidly cools the heap and slowly reduces the moisture level in the seed from a level of around 30% off the combine, to below 15% for safe storage. We agitate the heap with a stirrer and regularly move the seed to stop any hot spots or moisture layers causing any problems.
7. Once the all the seed is down below 15% it is pushed up to free the floor for storage of other crops and then left until winter when we clean and dress the seed for its market.
8. Back in the field and weather permitting, we would start our hay preparation. 1st step is to cut the grass stalks left by the combine. We use a 2.8m disc mower, the blades rotate at 1000rpm and it slices through the grass very close to the ground. The speed of the blades means that we can mow at high speeds sometimes 10-12km/hr. depending on the crop.
9. Once mown, we spread and mix the hay, this is done by a 7.7m wide tedder that again uses rotation and finger tines to throw the grass off the ground up into the air and down again, leaving the green moist hay on the top to be dried by the sun and wind. This process is done daily, weather permitting, and the hay gradually dries out. Usually this process takes 3-4 days.
10. When the hay has dried out enough, it is ready to bale. It is a gut instinct decision with no real science behind it, just when it is good to go, it is good to go and it’s all hands to the pump!
11. The rake will come and row the hay up that has been drying over the whole field; this is a 2.85m circle of tines that just pulls the hay into a row. The rows are then ready to bale and the race is on!
12. The baler (Pictures) is a delicate mix of tines, rams, fingers, knives and knotters. It is pulled along, gathering up the row while rams push the hay into a chamber inside the machine, which packs it up. When it meets the desired length and density, the fingers thread the twine through and round the bale and the mechanical knotter ties the twine up and the bale pops out of the back. It then falls onto a mechanical trailing machine behind the baler that arranges the bales into 2 rows of 4 which are left on the ground for easy pick up by a loader - or a hungry horse owner with their empty horse box.
13. Once the field is cleared, we all breathe a sigh of relief because, if we have any rain, it can put a stop to any of these processes and, if the rain is prolonged over a number of days, it can ruin the seed and the hay crop. So that is why we pray for sunshine and we have the saying ‘make hay while the sun shines!’
Hopefully you can pick out all the different machines in the video and next time you see us flying around with them in the field you know what is going on. Soon, if the weather turns nice we will be combining our Oil Seep Rape crops, as the wheats are still some way away from being ready. We just need sun not this wet stuff that keeps falling! BWB