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Dry hay ... in your barn.

Louis Bromfield's Malabar Farm was a combination experimental, instructional and working operation.

In his 1955 book, From My Experience, Mr. Bromfield relates their experiment with putting up high quality field hay with minimum labor needed for harvesting or eventual feeding to livestock. While they used this for some 300 acres of hay fields, I don't see why it could not be practiced on a homestead scale.

Mr. Bromfield's process used a drying barn. While these had been used prior to then, they had been based on the concept of pushing air through dried. He apparently correctly figured out that pulling air through would be far more efficient. In pushing air through hay the velocity becomes constantly lower in direct ratio to the distance from the fan and, as it loses force, it can become blocked at the top of the pile, where the hay is greenest and highest in moisture content. In pulling air the reverse is true. The velocity of the air current tends to increase as it approaches the fan and at the same time near the greenest and dampest portions of the hay on top. The pulling fan creates a vacuum between the top of the hay and roof, which greatly assists the air flow through the hay pile.

Their original drying barn was a relatively airtight shed, 26' x 30'. The floor had been raised two feet and covered with old woven fence wire. Air intake doors were along the bottom and a single door on the side allowed green hay to be blown into the shed. A five horsepower fan was mounted on one eave. When filled, this size barn held between 35-40 tons of dried hay.

He mentions four tests in his book:

- In the first one, hay was cut directly from the field at a very high moisture level. It required 24-hours to dry properly and the resulting product was deep green and almost silky in quality.

- In the second, hay at a somewhat lower initial moisture level was put directly on top of the first batch and dried in about half the time and with the same high quality and fineness of texture.

- In the third, hay was mowed for field drying and was only partially dry when it was rained on just prior to harvesting. It also dried in about 12 hours with almost no loss of quality.

- In the final test, the hay was mowed and dried to a level just before any leaf loss would occur. It dried in about six hours with excellent quality.

For the tests the various equipment used included a mower, windrower, forage harvester, self-unloading wagon and a blower to put the hay into the drying barn.

While the fourth test probably produced the best quality hay, it also involved the most equipment and turns around the field. Using just the forage harvester to cut standing hay, only the wagon and blower and a single turn around the field was required, yet it apparently still produced excellent hay - it just took longer to dry.

Mr. Bromfield noted their original drying barn cost $1,600 to build - about the cost of baling twine for them for one year.

Malabar Farm eventually put airtight doors along the sides of the drying barn and allowed livestock to be fed directly out of them. A side roof kept the feeding area from becoming a bog.

For Malabar Farm, the drying barns allowed them to produce hay of such high quality it had to be carefully fed out to prevent diarrhea in mature cattle and scours in young stock, yet at a significant savings in manpower. (This was during WWII when good manpower was scarce). Only one man was needed for the entire operation as it was highly mechanized and efficient. Probably the largest benefits were the ability to put up hay at a high moisture level, and avoiding handling hay bales.

Could this be scaled down for homesteader use? Why not? The larger equipment comes up for auction at farm sales and the drying barn need not be that elaborate. Perhaps you already have a suitable hay storage barn which could be modified by taking the structure down to the wall studs and rafters, covering the building with heavy-duty plastic, and then putting the wall and roof coverings back on. Perhaps one could even increase the efficiency by putting in a second blower which would take heat near the ceiling and blow it under the dry hay when the large exhaust fan was not operating.

On an even smaller scale, perhaps you have a riding mower with a blower attachment to put the cut grasses into a pull-behind trailer. In this case, when full, the trailer would be unloaded into the drying shed. Each cutting would be spread out on top of the previous cuttings.

For the homesteader, sometimes the old ways of doing things still have a great deal of merit.

(Louis Bromfield wrote four books on Malabar Farm. They are Pleasant Valley, Malabar Farm, Out of the Earth, and From My Experience. Selected chapters have been compiled into Louis Bromfield at Malabar. Check with your local library. If they do not have them, they may be available on an inter-library loan basis. The original books are sometimes available from used book sellers [contact those in the classified section of this publication] or at library excess book sales. The latter book is available from the Stockman Grass Farmer Bookshelf, PO Box 9607, Jackson, MS 39286 for $22.45 postpaid.)

(One source of heavy-duty [weave reinforced], puncture-resistant and nearly tear-proof plastic is Northern Greenhouse Sales, Box 42, Neche, ND 58265. Send $2.00 for sample and further information.)
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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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