The last few days have just been crazy! Friday, the hay guy arrived with
his haybine. That set us into a flurry of activity. He spent roughly four hours cutting about 5 acres. The haybine is a tractor implement that cuts the grass very close to the ground (much too close for my liking) using a sickle bar. (Think two oscillating bread knives.) Then it rolls the cut grass through two interlocking roller bars which crimp the grass. The crimping increases the surface area on each piece of grass, helping it dry faster.
While the hay guy was doing that, Michael was plotting the makeover of the hay barn. (He read my blog post lamenting my lack of action on the pallets and their danger to life and limb and he came up with a plan. I was skeptical he could get it done before the hay had to go in the barn, but he was confident.) So on Saturday, while he was laying the foundations for the new platform, I raked, swept, and teased the old moldy hay from the floor. There are a lot of things I don’t understand about why things on this farm were built the way they were and the floor of the hay barn is one of those things. Instead of something relatively smooth, which is easily cleaned up, the floor is part dirt and a lot rocks – generally palm-sized or smaller. Add to this a decade’s worth of old, moldy hay and it was a pretty nasty place. But it’s all cleaned up now and everything sprayed down with a water/bleach solution. The hay guy suggested we line the floor with plastic to keep the ground moisture out of the hay. (No matter how many ditches we dig around the hay barn, it’s always damp in there, hence Michael’s raised floor) But with all the rocks, plastic was not feasible.
Later that day, while Michael and I were attending various family and friend functions, the hay guy came back and ran the tedder over the pastures. A tedder is essentially a several combs with teeth oriented in a circle. The combs rotate quickly and scatter the cut grass across the field. A tedder fluffs, lifts and separates. It encourages drying.
On Sunday, Michael, with help from Eric and his friend, finished up the platform. It’s a simple structure of 2 X 6’s set on pre-cast concrete foundation stones and cinder blocks. The decking itself is the lumber we pulled off the chicken coop two years ago. Each plank is lightly screwed into the underlying joists, so I can take them up pretty quickly and sweep out the yearly accumulation of chaff. It’s a beautiful thing, that decking. Thank you, boys! It’s so much more than I expected and certainly not something I ever thought could go together that quickly.
While the boys were putting the finishing touches to the hay barn, the hay guy was out in the fields with his hay rake, gathering the scattered dried hay into neat windrows. (Can’t call it grass anymore. It’s dried out. It’s hay.) That took about two hours. By four o’clock, we had already put in a hard day’s work but that’s when the hay guy said we’d have bales on the ground in 30 minutes. He wasn’t exaggerating. I sent Michael and his helpers to the neighbors for a dip in the pond and I paid the hay guy, because by then, he was done. Actual baling took about an hour.
Here’s the cool part: When we moved to the farm two years ago, we had the same two fields hayed. Back then, we got 296 bales, or roughly 1700 – 2000 pounds per acre. This year, with nothing more put on the field than chickens, we got 371 or 2200 – 2600 pounds per acres. If I’ve done the math correctly, that’s a 25% improvement. 295 bales lasted me a full two years, with a considerable amount lost to mold. With 371 bales, I can think of selling some and recovering a bit of the cost for cutting and baling.
While the boys were swimming, I went to another neighbor’s farm to borrow their flatbed trailer. As soon as I got back I drove into the pasture and began loading the trailer. About 25 bales in, my friends arrived, followed closely by my husband. My oldest son and my daughter arrived home from work and also joined us in short order. My
youngest and his suburban friend plodded out last, bringing my workforce to 9. One person drove the truck. One person stood in the bed of the truck and stacked. One person stood in the trailer and stacked. The rest of us walked on either side of the truck and trailer and pitched bales to the stackers. Once the truck bed and the trailer were loaded up to silly heights and the stacks were thinking about becoming unstable and even the testosterone fueled teenage boys couldn’t toss a bale any higher, everyone scrambled for a seat amongst the bales for the ride back to the barn.
Once there, all the pickers and stackers got a decent water break, while the driver figured out how to back a trailer into the hay barn, using only the side mirrors on the truck. (I only attempt backing trailers when no one is watching. Can’t do it under pressure.) But all too soon, the water break was over and the actual stacking began.
Then, we just kept repeating the process. I think we did three loads before everyone ran out of steam and we ran out of daylight. We ended up leaving about 35 bales in the field overnight.
After we unloaded that first batch, I knew the new platform wasn’t big enough to take all the bales. Our hay barn was described in the sales literature as capable of holding 800 bales. I suppose it could. But we also store the tractor and the chicken picking equipment in there. So we carved out a few more spaces around the margins of the tractor’s place, and when all was said and done, we crammed all but those last 35 bales into the hay barn.
My friend and I left the men folk to finish stacking the last load of the evening and we whipped together a quick meal of sausage and hot dogs, along with baked beans and watermelon. She made some killer lemon-limeade. I burned the meat a bit due to distracted cooking circumstances, but everyone was so hungry, for that one night at least, I was the best cook in the world. As my daughter said the next day, “You put the hunger sauce on those hot dogs. There won’t ever be a better hot dog that those.”
While we were working the stack in the barn, my daughter flexed her muscles and said, “Body by Apriori.” I suppose if I had a clever marketing plan, I could get people to pay me money to come work on my farm thinking they are enrolling in some wholesome new fitness plan. We all certainly strengthened our muscles and burned off more calories than we consumed. She may be on to something.
The next day, after attending Memorial Day Services at the veterans’ cemetery, Michael, Eric and I brought in the last of the hay. We stashed a couple of bales in the chicken coop and put the rest in the main barn in the stall next to Ophelia’s to bolster the wall against her next conniption fit. Also in that stall, is a separate pallet of not-quite-dried hay. This I will have to monitor closely and use quickly. Improperly cured hay is like a compost pile. Such bales begin to heat up under decomposition and have been known to spontaneously combust and burn down hay barns. As soon as I can find our compost thermometer, you can bet I’ll be sticking it in those bales and monitoring daily until they are gone.
Back on Friday, one of my egg customers told me to enjoy hay day. My first thought was she’s obviously never put up hay. I told her hay day was like moving day only worse. No air conditioning anywhere (and it was hot and very humid). You have to work in long pants, long sleeved shirts and heavy gloves. Instead of setting boxes down, you are pitching bales overhead (Well, overhead if you’re a guy. Just shoulder height for us weanie girlie types.) The only enjoyment comes from the jokes and stories everyone tells to hide their pain.
Yet I knew that wasn’t exactly the whole story. I did enjoy hay day as I knew I would. So did everyone else. For the kids, a lot of it was competition. Who could move the most bales, who could toss them the highest, who was most fearless on the stack. I think also that pure physical labor is such a unique thing for kids these days that the novelty of it is exhilarating. There is also the opportunity for the kids to be better than their parents at something without anyone’s feelings getting hurt. Kids and grown ups are not equals in the hay field but they work side by side with no nagging from the parents or whining from the kids. That is pretty unique too. Haying is also where the youngest learn to drive at a nice slow speed in a nice open pasture where risk of collision is small. Bringing in the hay is brutally hard work, that leaves your hands blistered no matter how thick the gloves and your chest and shoulders sore no matter how well conditioned you are. But I think it touches primal needs in us: a need for the companionship and camaraderie of friends and family; a need to prepare against an uncertain future by outwitting nature for a season, . . .
And the eggheads in government want to put a stop to it. Farm work is dangerous and we mustn’t expose the wittle childrens to anything that might be dangerous . . . or knits families and communities closer together. Happily, for now at least, the pinhead in charge has withdrawn that proposal. So, for a while longer, my kids can see who can pitch a bale the farthest or the highest. They can play Mad Max in the 4×4 out in the pasture. They can laugh at each other at their pathetic attempts to back a trailer. And we can all enjoy hay day.