We think it is far more important to stop making hay on your land than it is to stop feeding hay on your land. Here are some things to think about.
What Made Sense in 1973 Doesn’t Make Sense Today
Making hay is a whole lot more expensive than it used to be. This table compares input costs for making hay in 1973 in contrast to 2013.
All of the input costs have increased at a much faster rate than the value of beef cattle, lamb, or milk. To be on par with costs experienced in 1973, fed cattle should have been $284/cwt, not the $148 they were.
Hay = Inexpensive Fertility
While making hay is expensive, in much of the US, hay can be bought for less than the cost of production. When you buy someone else’s hay and feed it on your property, you are buying their fertility at a highly discounted rate. In some years in some locations, you can buy beef cattle hay for less than the fertilizer value it contains.
This is a great opportunity for improving your land in a way that also benefits soil health.
Feeding Uniformly is the Key
The key to soil improvement is to get the hay fed uniformly over your pastures. This is how you can realize the greatest benefit from purchased hay as a planned fertility input.
Large round bales are still the norm in much of US cow country. Round bales can be unrolled with relatively low-cost equipment. Bales don’t unroll uniformly all the time, but the subsequent manure distribution is way better than feeding bales in ring feeders.
Big square bales can be flaked off easily in a systematic way to cover a specific area with each bale fed.
Bale processors are expensive pieces of equipment. If you are invested in something like this, make sure you are feeding all of your hay to optimize the distribution of manure across the pasture.
We need to be thinking about how much nitrogen and phosphorus is in each bale we are feeding so we can plan our daily feeding to apply appropriate levels of nutrients rather than feeding too little and not realizing the benefit we expected or feeding too much and overloading the soil and environment with excess N. We’ll look at that next week!
Stay tuned! Jim will be covering all the data and math in this series to help us figure out how to do the best we can at improving pastures with hay feeding. If you have questions for Jim, do share them in the comments section below!
Buying older farm equipment can be an economical way to get started in the world of farming. Farmers and homesteaders have long been a thrifty bunch, either out of necessity or just on principle. Sometimes they decide to part ways with their farm tools and equipment, which offers others the opportunity to score a deal. The catch is; is it a deal?
Buying older farm equipment may represent an excellent deal for you, especially if you’re looking for robustly manufactured implements. Many farm stores sell category zero and category one sized implements, but not all of them are all they’re cracked up to be. Most of these implements are enthusiast grade, which is the new term for economy grade. If you’re looking for commercial grade farming implements, then buying older farm equipment is likely a good idea.
Many people fall into the trap of finding new, less expensive implements and not evaluating the size of the equipment. If your tractor can handle seven, eight or nine-foot wide implements, it’s best you buy that sized equipment.
Buying less expensive, new equipment that is not as wide may not work as well with your tractor’s track width (measurement of tire sidewall to tire sidewall), or make the job unnecessarily longer. There’s a time difference when you’re cutting a field with a six-foot-wide mower versus an eight-foot-wide mower. If you have acres to mow, those two feet add up in hours.
Buying older farm equipment that is appropriately sized to you instead of impulse buying a cheap, smaller new implement will serve you well in practical use. Purchasing the right sized implement at a used price will keep you in the budget, without sacrificing performance.
Older Farm Equipment
As with everything you intend to buy used, the circumstance in which the equipment is being sold will be a good indicator of how much of a deal is being offered. Is the seller upgrading? Why? Are they getting out of farming? Are they moving? Is it broken? Most farmers won’t part with their precious farm implements without good reason, so be sure you know why. Even in one of these circumstances, there are a few other things you should pay attention to when looking at older farm equipment.
Is this product, or a comparable product still in production? How much does it cost brand new? I’m not a fan of buying used equipment for more than 50 percent of new unless it’s in stellar, like-new condition, or the new stuff is insanely expensive. For instance, if you’re looking at a mower deck that’s all beat up and the seller wants a hundred bucks less than a brand new one costs, it’s not a real deal. Knowing what these things cost brand new will give you a gauge to measure the deal against, and give you some information to leverage when bargaining with the seller.
Every piece of older farm equipment has the potential to hide a severe flaw. It’s up to you to look for these significant faults before you hand over your cash. Finding problems may not be a deal breaker because lots of things can be replaced, repaired, welded or modified to suit your needs. Just make sure the estimated cost of those repairs is factored into the sale.
For example; if you buy a used field mower deck for $1,300, which usually costs $1,800, but you need to replace the gearbox for $500 because it ran without oil and seized up, you just paid for a brand new mower but got a beaten and abused one instead. Not such a good deal. Make sure you know what works and what doesn’t before you buy.
Older farm equipment tends to be neglected and left outside to fend for itself. Rust can be merely cosmetic, or it can be cancerous. Heavy implements like cultivation plows, especially older farm equipment from the 50s and earlier, are usually made of some thick, high-quality steel. A rusty patina on an old two-bottom plow is inconsequential, but rot holes in the sheet metal of a field mower are an entirely different story.
Sometimes older farm equipment is missing parts. Things like tines, cutter blades, wheels, and sodbusters tend to disappear over years of use, either by breakage or removal for specific applications. Be sure you know what parts are supposed to be there because sometimes there’s no tell-tale empty spot or unused bolt hole to give you a hint.
Rust and bearings are not friends, but they do know each other way too well. If the older farm equipment you’re looking at has moving parts, make sure they still move. If you need to soak these parts down with a penetrating lubricant to make them spin again, you will probably need to replace the bearings. Make sure you’re not taking on a challenge that’s too much effort to make it a worthy deal since bearings can be difficult to replace on really old implements.
Hydraulic hoses are rubber, reinforced with steel cords. They don’t last forever, and they don’t like friction or sunlight. Make sure hydraulic lines haven’t rubbed through down to the steel cords, dry cracked from years in the sun, or been compromised any other way.
If the old farm equipment you’re looking at has bad lines, not all is lost! Many tractor part stores, heavy equipment repair shops, and even some automotive parts stores offer custom hydraulic lines made to order, even on the spot! Remove the lines you need to replace, as intact as possible, and bring them to the shop. Having the original lines to copy makes the process simpler, and lets you compare the new lines to the old. These lines aren’t free, so be sure to calculate the cost of new lines and connectors into your offer price.
Implement, and small farm tractors have tires that tend to dry crack and flatten when left in the field for years. Unless they are a foam-filled tire or a solid tire, the odds are that you’ll need to replace them if they dry crack enough to deflate, or at least put a tube in them. Tractor tires can be exceptionally expensive, unlike a car or light truck tire, so be sure to look up the cost of replacement before committing to buying the old farm equipment in question.
Tires that are loaded with calcium chloride usually rust the wheels of old farm equipment. The typical start point for wheel rot is around the tire stem, so be sure the wheels don’t look rusty around the stem hole. If a tractor you’re looking to purchase has wheel rot, be prepared to buy both rear wheels, or all four wheels if the front tires were loaded as well. If one wheel has rusted out, the others are likely not far behind.
Older farm equipment, especially antique equipment, may not be in production anymore. Manufacturers have likely discontinued production of parts, or that manufacturer has since disappeared entirely. The scarcity of replacement parts for this equipment causes complications when trying to source new parts to repair or replace missing pieces of equipment. Sometimes you can get lucky and find parts from random sellers online, but not always. Before you buy, be sure you can still get the parts you need. Otherwise, you may be stuck reinventing the wheel so to speak.
Sometimes buying older farm equipment makes sense for farming on a shoestring, but you need to spend the time and effort to understand what you’re buying. For simple implements, such as plows, harrows, and some rotary equipment, buying used is a great option, but in my experience, the more complicated the machine is, the less of a deal it usually is. Be sure to fully understand what you’re buying, what repairs it needs before you can use it, and what the local market price is for said equipment.
Have you bought any used equipment that let you down? What pearls of wisdom can you offer a first-time used equipment buyer? Chime in below in the comments!
No matter what kind of gate you buy or build, the installation is a bigger part of whether you’ll be happy with it in the long run. I’ve installed a few gates in my life, here’s a few tips to help you out.
Thinking about the finished gate before you start. Ask yourself, “Where do I want this gate to swing?” “Where will it latch it or let it rest against?” Just answering these questions will make your gate work better.
Here’s a few more ideas to help:
Make sure your post is strong and straight. Theres 3 basic ways to make sure your gate post is strong enough.
First, just put a big post, deep in the ground, and cement it really well. This is best used on places where the post is not able to be supported, or where overheads are not wanted.
The second way is to use overhead supports. Usually you want to make overheads at least 12’ tall to ride under on horseback, or get a normal tractor under it during clean-out. (A tractor with the loader DOWN that is!) You’re best off using a 4 1/2” post for the hinge end, but the latch end can be 2 7/8”. The overhead is often 2 2/3”, but 2 7/8” will work fine.
The third option is to have 2 direction support for your gate post with top rail. This is probably the strongest way to have a gate post because the load is spread out over 2 whole fences, not concentrated.
No matter which way you do this, getting a strong post is probably the most important part of installing a gate. You can always replace a gate in an hour, replacing a post is hard work that is best never done!
Tip #2: Gates need to be level.
Level on gate
I’ll probably do a whole post about leveling gates, but for now, lets just say that gates should be level (except on hillsides, but we’ll talk about that another day)
You want to install the gate so the latch end is just a little bit high, (the edge of the bubble on the line is enough) That way the gate will sag down and be perfectly level.
The hinge end generally should be plumb. The only exception is when you are mounting a gate crosswise on a hill, then you want to tilt the hinge end enough so the gate will come up and follow the land rather than plowing into the ground.
Tip #3: Gates in a fence line should be offset
Gates need to swing around and latch back against the fence. You do this by offsetting the gate enough to fold back. Installing gates straight in the fence line should be avoided unless the gates doesn’t swing thru. At no point should a gate hit at the hinge before it can be latched, It will get bent or broken if it does.
Tip #4 Make some space on both ends of the gate
You want to leave about 1” to 1.5” of space on the latch end. If it’s too wide, the latch doesn’t work and small animals might get their head stuck in it, if it’s too tight, you might smash your hand in it, or it might settle and not be able to swing thru.
The gate you buy should be 3” shorter than the gap your are filling, so you will have about 1.5” on both the hinge side and the latch side.
Tip#5: Test it out!
After you get the gate set in place, tack it up enough to hold it. Take the blocks out and test it out before you weld it up solid. It’s a lot easier to make any changes now than to have to cut it all off to make a change.
Tip #6: Weld it up (hill)
The first thing you want to do is clean the metal up. If there is thick rust, paint, dirt, or any kind of coating on the post, go ahead and use a wire wheel or grinder to clean it up. The mounting plate is usually good to go, but it doesn’t hurt to clean it up if it’s been sitting out in the weather.
I’ll do another post on welding, but the main thing is to use the proper size of rod and proper welding method, which is to weld uphill.
The biggest thing to make sure your gate sticks is to use good quality welding rod that has been sorted correctly. Almost any type of general purpose welding rod will stick it on, but my personal choice is E7018. I’d recommend using a small rod, such as 1/8” or 3/32”, don’t use large rods or weld downhill, I used to do this, but it’s not as strong and it’s worth spending the time to do it better.
Welding a gate
Make sure to use proper safety gear. safety glasses, long sleeve shirts, welding helmet, steel toe boots, and gloves.
I’ll have more tips on setting up the post and latch in the coming weeks. Make sure to follow along on social media (links at bottom of the page) and don’t be a stranger if you’re needing some help designing up a set of corrals! Click the contact button to send an email, or write me at email@example.com
Many ranchers and builders do not have the time or expertise to make professional models and drawings of their livestock handling systems. I help by providing quality SketchUp models and construction documents for livestock handling systems.
Many ranchers have ways to load cattle into a stock trailer, but if they send calves or cull cows on a cattle truck or semi they need a loading chute. A good chute makes it easy to load or unload cattle, and is easy for the trucker to get to and away from.
Rusty Hamilton (Salmon, Idaho) hauls cattle all over the West and has loaded or unloaded at thousands of chutes—at ranch headquarters, sale barns, feedlots and more. Some chutes work better than others.
“For the floor, many people use wood (with cleats) or dirt and those give good traction for the cattle. I’ve loaded and unloaded at chutes with expanded metal flooring and I don’t like those; even though they are easier to keep clean because manure falls through, I don’t like an open floor because cattle can look down through it and this can spook them,” he explains.
Cleats on a wood floor are important for traction, and Hamilton suggests bolting wood strips onto the floor. “If they are just nailed, and cows come sliding out of the truck (if there’s moisture on the flooring) and hit the cleats they pull the nails right out—and then you have sharp nails sticking up.”
Angle is also important. “The ramp needs to be at least 10 to 12 feet long but doesn’t have to be much longer, because you are only going from ground level up to 36 to 48 inches to get into the truck or cattle trailer. I’ve loaded cattle up some 6 foot ramps, however, and they will do it but it’s a pain; some of them balk if it’s that steep,” says Hamilton.
Width is also important. You don’t want a chute too narrow for big cattle, but you don’t want it so wide that smaller cattle try to turn around. “About 30 to 36 inches is probably as wide as you want it. This may be a little tight for a big bull, but for cows and calves it works pretty well,” he says.
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The loading area needs to be big enough that trucks can turn around and back up to the chute easily. Avoiding sloped areas is best, he said. “They really need at least 200 feet by 200 feet in front of the loading chute to easily turn around and back in there. Sometimes we have to do it in smaller spaces, but it’s trickier. As long as you have a straight shot at it—so drivers can pull up and back into the chute—and not have a sharp corner when they pull out from the chute, it works ok.”
Hamilton has a couple of tips for what not to do when building a loading chute.
“Don’t build it inside a corral. That’s fine when the corrals are dry, but in winter or spring it gets muddy and slick (or boggy) and hard for trucks to get in and out.” The space for maneuvering a big truck may be limited unless the corral is large.
“Don’t put a loading chute alley on the same alley where cattle are moved toward the squeeze chute. Some people do that to save space, but the cows don’t want to go that direction and tend to balk when you try to load them. They associate it with the working chute,” says Hamilton.
You want a good corral design for getting cattle sorted and moved into a loading chute. Sometimes pens are awkward for loading. “I recommend at least a couple gates in the alleyway, and a gate near the bottom of the loading chute, so you can close it off. Then if a few cattle come out you are not unloading the whole load,” he says.
“Make the sides of the loading chute solid (wood or metal), so cattle can’t see through it as they go up the ramp. It’s just like a working chute; if they can’t see out they tend to go better without balking at something they see off to the side, and they’ll follow the cow ahead of them. If you put a slight turn to the alley leading to the ramp, this is better than a straight chute because they don’t see what’s happening at the truck and tend to just follow the cow ahead because they think they are getting away,” he explains.
He also recommends having a walkway up the loading chute so people can go along it if necessary, to encourage a reluctant animal. “I would also put a gate at the top so a person can come out of the loading chute (after following a bunch of calves, for instance), and walk back down the walkway. If the chute has solid sides it is really hard to climb out; you need a gate to go in and out of the truck or chute,” he says.
“Many people put a swinging gate at the top so it can be adjusted in case the truck is not exactly perfectly straight against the chute; they can move the gate a little to close a gap, but if the chute has solid sides I’d still put a gate at the top so a person can get through it—like an escape door in a trailer. If something is coming after you, it’s good to have a gate and not have to try to scramble up a solid wall!”
RANCHER PERSEPECTIVE – Reuben Olson, who ranches near Prairie City, South Dakota, has several loading chutes, but his main chute is made of wood. “It is not very steep; it is 16 feet long. We have a lift on it so we can adjust the height. We can drop it down to load a stock trailer and raise it to various heights to load different size trucks. It is about 3 feet wide, with solid sides. Cattle will go up the chute a lot better if they can’t see through the side or the bottom; there’s nothing spooky to distract them on the outside.
“I talked with one guy who built his ramp in stair-step fashion–like going up short little steps, and the cattle go up it very well, and it isn’t at all slippery,” says Olson.
Some people build up an area for the chute (or have trucks coming to it on a lower level) so the floor is dirt or gravel rather than having a ramp. “Many sale barns have a chute with dirt floor and this is good footing. The cattle don’t have to go up a ramp; they walk straight onto the truck on the same level. I think that would be ideal,” he says.
Holding pens behind the chute should be user-friendly, to get the cattle in. “If the loading chute is next to the gate where they ordinarily go out of the corral, you can line up the pens so cattle are moving in a circle and know this is the direction to go out of the corral. If they always go out that corner, they naturally want to go that way,” he explains.
Brian Glass and Kent Wilkinson, also of Prairie City, built two loading chutes in Glass’s shop last winter out of steel. One of the biggest challenges was moving the heavy chute outside and into place.
“We used oilfield pipe for the frame (posts and base), and sheet metal for the sides,” says Glass. The sheet metal was 3/16ths thickness, and 4 by 8 foot sheets. “We used quarter-inch plate for the ramp. I made a double chute—side by side—one at ground level with just a dirt floor for loading stock trailers, and the metal ramp for the loading chute for semis.”
The quarter-inch plate for the ramp was heavy and awkward to handle but made a solid, durable floor. “We used old steel posts that were bent or too short for cattle fences as treads for the floor,” says Glass. These were welded onto the metal plate, for traction. Eventually he plans to make a small ramp for the trailer-loading chute so calves can step right into the trailer and not have to jump up.
“The metal ramp for the truck chute works nicely. One neighbor said we should have used wood (bridge planks) because metal would be too noisy. But the cattle loaded very well up the metal ramp and it wasn’t noisy because everything was welded solid and didn’t rattle. I figured the quarter inch plate would last a lot longer than wood.”
The chute is 36 inches wide. “It could be a little narrower but a big bull will fit through this, and when are loading calves if one calf stops another one can go by it. The ramp is about 16 feet, but 3 feet of that is a level landing at the top. The 13 feet is a gradual incline and then there’s the flat spot where they walk into the cattle truck. I saw one like that and thought it was a good idea—so the cattle are not scrambling upward as they go into the truck,” says Glass.
“I put a door so you can walk through, and not have to crawl over the solid side. I also put a door up front on the trailer side, so you can get in and out and slide the trailer gate,” he explains.
The sides of the chute are 5-foot 2-inch height from floor to top. “This is the height I build free-standing panels; cattle don’t try to jump over,” says Glass.
“It took a little longer to build and more material than we thought, but will last a long time—much longer than wood. We used 2 7/8 inch oilfield pipe for the bottom frame and 2 3/8 drill steel pipe for the posts. We made a bottom base and welded the posts to the frame; the posts are not set in the ground. If necessary I could lift and move it to a different spot.”
Wilkinson says these chutes will last beyond their lifetimes. “We put conveyer belting on one side of his to help buffer and muffle the sound.”
For anyone trying to build a metal chute, Wilkinson and Glass recommend making sure you have extra time, and some help to hold everything. “It’s very heavy material, and squaring up the posts on top of that pipe is tricky and you need an extra hand,” says Glass. “It was really good having the neighbors help.” Kent Wilkinson and his father Jim helped put the chutes together.
Some of the angles were also tricky, but doable. “I used a plasma cutter, but mainly a chop saw. I created a saddle at the end of my pipes, to touch each other, rather than a straight cut, so there wasn’t so much gap to weld. It fits better and saves a lot of welding,” he says.
“Sometimes a trucker is in a hurry or not careful when backing up and hits a chute pretty hard. The wooden ones don’t hold up very well with that kind of abuse, and they weather too much. Metal will last a lot longer,” says Wilkinson.
If YOU Must feed Hay – Then do it with the Spinner.
Square Spinner was designed to be both effective and efficient.
The Square Spinner stands uniquely alone as there is nothing else on the market, that attaches easily to a 3 point hitch, to feed square bales. It eliminates pulling a processor over varying terrain and through deep snow. Rather than chewing feed up, which can lead to loss in wind and snow, it flakes the hay off without shredding. It enables the feeding of square bales to be a one person job and is very easy to use. The design is simple and the cost is very reasonable as compared to other processors.
Features and Benefits:
• One person feeding operation
• Adustable to feeed all large square bales.
• Easy bale handling
• Capable of pulling wagon/sled with the Square Spinner in the up position.
• Adjustable to fit any tractor
• Low maintenance, grease bearings accordingly
• Feeds product flake by flake, as light or heavy as desired
• No PTO, all hydraulically driven
• 2500 psi hydraulic hookup required
• Suggested 65 horse power tractor m1n1mum
Grass Hay • Alfalfa
Sorghum • Sudan
Corn Stalks •
Will feed anything that can be put into a bale