Friday, August 07, 2009

Harvest Time

It is wheat harvest time in eastern Montana. We have spent most of our lives on the Front Range and in the mountains of Colorado, so we are much more familiar with the process of cutting hay than that of harvesting wheat.
There is a large wheat field that can only be accessed by driving through 7th Ranch RV Camp. Three times a week we run up and down the road to that field. So we were very interested when we learned that the harvesters would be driving through the RV park to do their work.
Last Sunday, soon after the cattle roundup was completed, we saw the harvesting equipment drive in. To us, it seemed like an awful lot of equipment for what appeared to be a small field.
On Monday and Tuesday mornings, the harvest crew drove in at about 8 am. On Wednesday we saw part of the equipment being driven out. A number of large grain trucks had been filled with wheat. Later that day, John and I talked to a man (we guess he owns the wheat field) and he said they harvested 71,000 bushes of wheat up there.
On Thursday we watched several large flat-bed trucks drive up to the field, then return with huge round bales of straw.
According to the Big Horn County News on July 30, “Dryland wheat harvest is in full swing with winter wheat doing well, Scott Schubert (of Big Horn Ag Services) said. ‘We’re coming in at anywhere from 40 to 70 bushels per acre with the average being about 50-60 bushels per acre.’…According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Big Horn County has about 134,000 acres of wheat being grown.” This story would indicate that nearby field we saw being harvested was somewhere between 1000 and 1775 acres.
Being city-slickers, we don’t know much about wheat and straw. For those of you who are like us, I include the following question and answer I found on the internet.
Dear Twig: What’s the difference between hay and straw?
Hey, good question. Often the words “hay” and “straw” are used interchangeably. But hay and straw aren’t the same thing. If you’re a farmer, a horse or a cow, the difference is especially important.
To explain: Hay is made out of grasses and legumes (plants like clover and alfalfa). Farmers grow these plants in fields; cut the plants down a couple times a summer; dry them out; then roll, wrap or cram them into bales. (Imagine mowing a really tall lawn then rolling the clippings into a really big Ding Dong.) Hay is full of nutrients, and farmers feed it to their livestock.
Straw, on the other hand, is made of the leftover stalks of plants like oats and wheat and barley. The hollow stalks are left behind when the seeds of the plants are harvested. The stalks are cut and dried and baled. The result, voila, is straw. Straw has fewer nutrients than hay but is light and warm and absorbent. It’s best for livestock bedding, not food.
There you are, fellow city-slickers. We all learned something this week.


  1. Carol,
    Fellow city-slickers, Connie and Art, thank you for the explanation of the differences between wheat and hay :)

    One other thing we also wondered about is why the hay/wheat bales are sometimes round and sometimes they are square.

  2. Great blog - and very nice pics. I too have always wondered about hay. Thanks for the explanation.

  3. Having farmed I do know the difference between hay and straw. They are a difference colour as well as weight. They smell different. And they feel different.
    Hay is usually a mixture of plants: grasses and legumes.

    I always enjoyed making hay out of oat plants rather than wait until the oats ripened to be combined for the grain. I had a field which the combine could not cross the bridge to harvest the grain.

    This is done by cutting the oats down early at the "milk stage" (squeeze the seed pods and you get a milky substance) before the seed hardens. You cure it a couple of days on the ground in the sun and then bale it as hay. It is the most beautiful green-blue colour. Horses just love this as part of their feed.
    It is nutritious like hay and not straw.

  4. Being a West Slope Ranch girl,I could have answered your questions! However, I had not heard of cutting oats early and using it like hay. Makes sense that the horses would like them since they really like the dried version!

    The bales are different shapes because the machinery is different. Balers that made round bales came along much later. But the small oblong bales were a huge improvement over stacking loose hay.