Monday, May 9, 2011

Haulin' Hay

As I went into town the other day, I noticed that the hay fields are starting to ripple in the breeze. If you use your imagination, it looks rather like the waves on the ocean. It’s a thing of beauty on a bright spring day. The sight of the fields made me start thinking ahead toward Hay Season.

Since our space is limited, we don’t grow our own grains, or our own hay. While this adds to the expenses of running the farm, it works for us.

Hay season here in the Valley starts in May or June, depending on the weather. It lasts for about a month or so. Many years there is a “second cut” later on in the season. There are days when you can hear the distant whir of the mowers, smell the fresh cut grass in the air, watch as the bales shoot from the balers in the fields surrounding our farm.

Generally, we get one wagon load straight from the field from one of the neighbors. He calls and says, “Tell Tom the haywagon is in the barn…he can come when he wants.” End of conversation. He, the hay guy, never identifies himself, never checks to see if he has the right number…but, he knows we’ll be by to get the wagon, unload the hay, and put the wagon back. Payment for the hay will be accepted whenever we see him next, no need to mail the check. Life in the country is all about integrity.

Hauling hay in the summer just feels right. The sky is brilliant blue, the air smells like fresh cut hay, and the warmth is wonderful after the long winter and chilly spring. The wonderful warmth quickly turns to unbearable heat as we unload the hay and stack it in the barn. We get hot and sweaty and the bits of hay are prickly and stick to the sweat. While it’s not always pleasant, it means the animals will eat during the winter, and that thought reassures me.

We have to get hay several other times throughout the year. We usually make a couple of trips during the winter. Our barn is of limited size as well, and we would rather house animals than store hay.

When we get “winter hay”, we take a trip to our friends in a small town north of here. They have a BIG market garden, chickens, goats, sheep and pigs. Generally, we stay and visit a while enjoying a cup of coffee and attempting to solve all the world’s problems.

Hauling hay in the winter is a different experience. There’s a sense of urgency caused by the rapidly emptying barn. While we don’t get hot and sweaty, it’s generally not a job we linger over; we’re generally one step ahead of a snow storm. Unloading winter hay, we have an audience, a loud and angry audience…demanding that fresh hay NOW!

There is an art to stacking hay on the truck, trailer or haywagon. I don’t know how to do it, but I do admire the artistry of it. If it is stacked just right, it won’t fall off, despite the bumps along the way. Somehow, it locks together and rides in a cohesive unit to its destination. Once, the art form failed us, and we lost a bale in the middle of Route 11. Thankfully, it wasn’t too broken, the traffic allowed for the retrieval, and we got it all home.

There is also a science to knowing when to cut the hay, when to ted (or “fluff” it for drying) the hay, and when to bale the hay. Any misstep along the way and the hay will either mold rendering it inedible, or it becomes overgrown and the nutritive value is lost. Farming requires a great deal of skill and knowledge; don’t think for one moment that “anyone can farm.”

We get a real sense of satisfaction knowing the barn is full of hay. It is so reassuring to know that the animals will indeed have food for yet another season.

So, to all the “hay guys” out there…THANKS for all you do!

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