Montana is one of the largest hay cropping producers in the United States. A single successful haying season could last many years, and one local farmer is on track for his best season ever if Mother Nature allows.
“The biggest part of hayin is weather,” said Walter Schweitzer, President of the Montana Farmers Union.
Rain can make or break Walt’s season and one pop up storm could end it all.
“We have to try and plan so we have enough days to dry the hay before we bale the hay, and a rain can delay all of that. and if you get too many rains on a hay it can wreck the quality of the hay.
Basically it's an art to make good quality hay and I've been doing it my whole life and I've learned a lot from my mistakes.
Once there's a decent forecast, Walt, his wife Cindi, and their nephew Oscar get to work.
"You come in and you swath it and that's a machine that cuts the hay and makes it into these windrows right here. You let that dry generally about a day if it's thick and it's cool it might take a couple days. And then we rake them together, we put two windrows into one. "
A lot of people take the raking process for granted but that's where you can wreck hay. If you rake it too dry you're just wrecking the quality of your hay.”
Quality hay means fully nourished cattle, which make for stronger breeds, eventually translating into sales. Cutting and baling happens pretty quickly when the timing’s right.
“We make a bale about a minute in a half. The best we've done from the very beginning to the end -10 days. And we put up 2,000 bales in 10 days.”
He closely keeps track of every batch, making sure the hay his cows eat has the right amount of nutrients to keep them healthy and strong.
“I'll do maybe a dozen core samples of different fields and send it in. I'll get 12 results back and it'll show me the protein, the amount of fiber that's in it and the different nutrients. It'll give you a relative feed value.”
Walt says, this year has had it’s ups and downs with the ever looming pandemic, but this crop in particular could really help turn things around….
“If I can get it captured in a bale it might be the best crop that this ranch has produced.”
If so, this hay could feed his cattle for up to 10 years, and continue to bring new life to Montana’s family farms.