An orange Kubota tractor lumbers its way slowly around the front pasture of a Key Peninsula farm Saturday, the plunger of a mechanized baler thumping a steady beat.
Warwick Bryant methodically drives down rows of dry cut grass, feeding the hay to the baler connected to a hitch behind the tractor.
Bryant, owner of Kaukiki Farm, is seated comfortably inside the air-conditioned cab, his black wrap-around sunglasses perched on top of a balding head.
A farm hand in a wind row tractor whip up the dry grass into neat rows on the other side of the field.
“This is winter feed for the animals,” Bryant said.
The grass on these fields have been left free of grazing mobs of sheep the past two weeks, allowing it to grow thick and tall.
Earlier in the week, the grass was cut and left to dry.
Sustaining the pastures to grow hay is a three-step annual cycle, according to Braynt.
The farm’s flocks of sheep graze the fields in the spring. Then Bryant cuts and bales the hay in the summer. In late fall, the mob of sheep are brought back to graze the fields again.
All this work dovetails nicely with Bryant’s philosophy of sustainable farming. The idea is for people to produce most of what they eat or use in their daily lives.
But it also makes economic sense for this farm.
Without the hay from their pastures, Bryant said, his farm would have to buy it elsewhere. They save almost two-thirds of the cost of feeding their animals by harvesting their grass, or roughly $6,000 a year.
“We don’t buy hay hardly at all,” he said.
Instead they buy alfalfa to feed their sheep during lambing season.
“The reason we do that is it gives the ewes calcium,” he said.
And because Kaukiki Farm can’t “produce enough hay on the property,” he said.
They also buy about one hundred bailage bales for their cattle. Bailage is hay cut earlier in the season, when it is still mostly wet. The bales look like grass rolled into giant marshmallows.
To make economic ends meet and justify the cost of the equipment he uses, Bryant said he does other people’s fields – roughly producing 15,000 bales a year.
For context, Bryant gets around 1,300 bales from 24 acres of his 70-acre farm. Each bale weighs between 55-60 pounds each.
“There used to be three or four people doing it out here,” he said.
Cutting hay is not that simple, he said. Having the proper equipment and know-how is needed.
According to Bryant it is good to keep the grass thick. The grazing sheep helps maintain the height of the grass, about 6-to-8 inches, he said.
“The reality of that though is that we would need a bunch more animals to keep (the grass) at bay,” he said.
“We are constantly playing this game” of rotating animals grazing the field and cutting it for hay, he said.