Make Hay While the Sun Shines

As true a saying as ever there was…

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These pictures show three tractors at work.  The youngest guy is working the rake, and Hay Guy and another man are driving the balers.  The middle of the big field shows the hay all spread out, the young guy is piling it into windrows with the rake and the balers are following him about one circuit behind each other.

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I can see they started much earlier this afternoon, since the far field is already baled.  In total we’re looking at about 12 acres of hay here.  This was taken around 7pm, shortly after I got home from work, they were finished about an hour later.  I’m guessing they’ll haul it off the field tomorrow.

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This seemed like the right beer to have with dinner this evening.

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I’ve been prepping the brooder for the layer chicks due to arrive this week. All my helpers have abandoned me temporarily because the building made them feel like Ron Weasley:

Frankly, I feel this to be a slight exaggeration…it’s quite bright in there thanks to a few windows, and I had the door open while I was sweeping out cobwebs, but I will admit that I wore long sleeves and jeans instead of my usual cut offs, because really, the number of spiders was ridiculous and the size of about half of them was disturbing.  While Vancouver Island doesn’t have much in the way of dangerous reptiles or insects, we do have black widow spiders and a couple of other not very good for you sorts.  At one point in the job the sweat trickling down my back made me think the spiders were in my shirt…after an irrational panicky few seconds outside dancing around like a mad thing, I regained my sanity and went and cooled off with a drink of water before heading in to do battle once again.

Not that it was as filthy as all that, actually – I store the pig feed in there, and empty feed sacks waiting for recycling, and I’d already cleaned it out after the broilers vacated last fall.  It’s just…well, the amount of dust and cobweb and spiders WAS rather much considering the place was practically empty.  Anyway, it’s lovely now, rat proof screen on the window, which is slid open to get some fresh air in there, all the feed bags are gone, and most of the spiders.  (not all, a good many scuttled under the moulding around the edge of the floor – this building was the original creamery for the farm but my Dad turned it into a summer bedroom when my Mum was ill so she could be close to her garden.  So it has some fancy touches not usually found in dairies or brooders.

It should have been quite simple to set up this space, since I use it as a brooder every year, but I never do things the easy way if there’s a more complicated way to do it.  And there is.  I’ve got the broiler chicks coming in three weeks.  They also need brooder space, and more of it (there are more of them, and they grow faster).  The layers won’t be ready to go out on the field at that point, so we’re having to prep a second brooder area in there.  It gets better.  I only have 2 field pens.  I will need both for the broilers by mid August, which is about when the layers can go out too – except that I won’t have a field pen for them.  They can’t go to the hen house where they’ll be living once they are laying, because the old layers are still there.  The old layers are not supposed to be there, they’re supposed to be in the freezer already, but helper availability and other circumstances have prevailed and the dratted birds are still around.  Moreover, the hen house is in serious need of repair (there is a hole in the roof, a hole in the door, and the plumbing has a split, to name a few issues).  I really can’t move the new birds in until I’ve repaired part of one wall, the door and the roof.  And replace the nest boxes.  It’s going to take a miracle or two to get all that done before mid August given the other priorities hanging over me.

I still need to sell one side of pork if I’m going to make any money on the current pair of pigs.  I also have to find someone to slaughter them, which is proving tricky.  The pigs are supposed to be in their new pasture as we speak, and they are not.  So close, but not quite.  I need to find time to change their existing electric fence to join the one in the new pasture and I need to do that when the pigs are not helping me, ie when I can lock them in the barn.  They are bored right now (nothing left to dig, or chew or tear apart).  Bored pigs are trouble waiting to happen, so I have GOT to get onto this job in the next day or two.

Despite what this may sound like, pigs and chickens are not in fact my top priority this summer.

Painting is the number one priority this summer.  It began three summers ago and was supposed to be done then.  And we’re still at it.  And I am determined that we will be DONE with it by the end of this season.  It’s going pretty slowly – that helper availability thing again, and the weather – too hot, too wet – never just right.  Wasp nests in the eaves.  Having to clear brambles enough to get a ladder into one area.  And we’re just talking one side of the house.  Plus a porch. Actually, we are not talking about the porch if you don’t mind.  There were issues with the paint, and I’m not over it.  Suffice it to say that it is almost finished and at this rate might be the only thing on the painting list to be finished.  Should we by some extraordinary chance get through with the west side of the house as well, then there is the barn to be painted, which has been a priority for more than 3 years.  That should be fun.  Wasps live IN the walls.  Some of the walls want to fall apart and have to be repaired as we go.  There are more brambles.  And other stuff to do when we’re not struggling with ladders and scrapers and wasps – like pigs and chickens.

Dauntless is not how I’m feeling right now.  No, I feel a bit like Ron, actually.  Surrounded and overwhelmed and completely regretting what I’ve gotten myself into.  I’m trying not to think how much worse it got for Ron – that was near the beginning of the second book out of seven.  I take comfort from the fact that he came through it all and emerged battle scarred but successful.  I just hope it doesn’t take me seven volumes worth of effort to get there.



Mid June Field walk and more

Busy, crazy busy month. Appointments (dentist x 3, doctor x 2, vet x 2), extra work shifts, and hubby’s busiest season for work. End of year ceremonies for performing arts, Pathfinders, and the church grad dinner. Everything is just growing so darned fast – grass, weeds, blackberries. The first baby llama was born down at my brother’s place, an exciting event. Exams for the girls start this week at school. Grad for the eldest is in 2 weeks – exams are a minor anxiety compared to the fact that we have not yet found the right SHOES. We’re not panicking, exactly…

The hay on the first field got cut at the beginning of the month, on what was supposed to be the first day of a 6 day sunny stretch. It rained that night of course. However, it wasn’t torrential, and the rest of the week was sunny. The bald eagle pair, the local ravens and a turkey vulture have been literally having a field day scooping up field mice and rabbits that were suddenly left homeless.

The pigs are growing nicely, now three months old. They filled in the Hole to China (or more precisely the Hole to the Indian Ocean about 100 miles south of Madagascar) for some reason, and it has since become a longish trench – perhaps the Panama Canal? We’re still gearing up to move them to a new patch – maybe later this week. They definitely want more grass.

And that’s the kind of month it’s been so far. Taking a deep breath as we launch into the second half.

Hay Fever

You’ve heard it said many times – make hay while the sun shines.  Well, it’s finally shining here, and the frenzy is on.

Every John Deere, Kubota, International and ancient M-F is out there cutting, tedding, and otherwise getting the grass made into hay.  These pictures were taken just over a week ago, when we had a non-rainy spell, and our top field got cut.  Imagine blue skies, and a different field, and it’s the same action everywhere I look today.  Hay Guy is a die hard John Deere fanatic.  I think he has a fleet of about 8 of them, but I have no idea which models are which, sorry.

The macerator – it crimps the stalks of the hay, helping them to dry much faster

This is the tedder – it fluffs up the grass to turn it and get air under the damp bits

The dip in the field hids it a bit, but the one on the right is raking the loose grass into windrows, he’s about 2 rows ahead of the guy on the left, who is baling.

This is a snazzy device – an automatic loading wagon – it scoops up the bales, makes rows of them flat, then lifts the rows up into a vertical wall and pushes them back, till the wagon is full.

In the picture below, the uncut patch in the middle bottom was left last week due to impending rain, but it got cut yesterday.  In fact you can see from the grass colours that he cut this field three times in the end.

I think this is a vulture, but it might be a raven, he was doing a lot of swooping, it was hard to tell.

I do fear for our small black cat when hay season is on – she must look just about right to the various eagles, vultures and ravens circling above the cut fields, waiting to dart down for a tasty mouse or rabbit.   She’s a keen mouser/rabbiter herself, so I hope she’s not oblivious to her place in the food chain when concentrating on a hole somewhere.

Teak – our small but mighty mousing machine

When it’s finally time to make hay, farmers really do get a kind of fever – they are driven to get the whole job done in a short window of good weather.  It’s stressful, because the crop can be ruined if the weather changes at any point during the process., but because of that risk,  the satisfaction when the crop is safely under a roof is wonderful.

Joel Salatin Workshop – final notes

Joel Salatin and Michael Ableman at Foxglove Farm

I thought of calling this Part 4, to match all the other Part 4 posts I did (grin) …but this is the last one, just to wrap up the tail end of Joel’s presentation, and what I gleaned from the Q and A session afterward.

-Gerald Fry writes about genetics.

Grass Fed Beef – with regard to taste/texture there are several factors that make up a pie chart:

-Brix (sugar), genetics, maturity (should be ¾ dam’s weight minimum), stress, handling/loading, Calpone/enzyme and hanging time, minerals fed, cooking.  Ratios vary, but should make up for each other.  There is said to be terroir in grass fed beef (like in wine).

Calpone – enzyme that needs slow cooling time after processing so it can soften connection tissues.  Processors are set for fast cooling, which toughens the meat.  Supplement with calcium (in feed) to overcome this.  Applies to rabbits and chickens too – rigor mortis.  Freeze 6 0r 7 hours after they’ve been dead .  OK to use chill tank, no ice till later.

Minerals – pigs and poultry get it in their balanced ration feed.  Cows get a box of mixed mineral, they can access at will.

The farm is portable.  You do not have to own land, or a tractor or a big barn to be successful at pasture farming.  You can do it with 2 cows or 200.  It is a scaleable model.

The single biggest topic during the Q and A at the end was around hay, sileage and hayleage.  Up here in the PNW, haymaking can be challenging as our damp weather, especially in the last couple of years, has been carrying right through the traditional time for first cuts (mid-May through June).  We had a couple of dairymen in the crowd, and a couple of guys raising beef, one originally from Alberta, where things are much drier for haymaking.  The basic question was not so much a question as a defence, I think:   we need to make haylage or sileage here because it’s difficult to make good hay – but easy enough to make good haylage.  The cows seem to prefer the haylage, the protein content is much higher, but if it’s bad to feed fermented hay to cows because they are walking fermentation tanks, what are we supposed to do?

Joel’s response:  put the cows on the hay field, and graze it instead of cutting it for hay so early.  That will delay the first cut to a period when the weather is better for haymaking.

Dairy guy:  I’ve put gloppy gooey haylage and dry hay side by side in front of my cows, and they pick the haylage first every time.  Doesn’t that say something?

Joel:  If I put a Snickers bar and a piece of broccoli in front of you, which one are you going to eat first?

I don’t think the dairy guys were completely convinced about the idea of grazing to delay the hay.  And when you’ve been doing it one way forever, it’s hard to wrap yourself around a new concept – there’s a lot at stake.  What if it doesn’t work and you have to buy in hay later – a huge cost?  What Joel is implying is hard to visualize from a conventional/traditional point of view – to keep on top of that grass growth in May with our ideal grass growing conditions (damp) – you need a much higher stocking density.  The problem then is that you need a lot more hay to winter them over with, but you don’t have it because you had them grazing the darn stuff.

Joel has obviously run into this one before.  And he acknowledges that his climate and growing conditions are quite different from ours, but he staunchly maintained that it’s a paradigm shift more than anything climate related.  He also allowed that it’s quite possible the grass would get ahead of the cows during the fastest growth curve, and might not be ideal hay, but made the point that it would be better than hay spoiled by mold or damp, and that you would still derive the benefit of delaying a significant amount of grass growth for hay by grazing.

I haven’t broached any of this with Hay Guy yet – but we here at Tyddyn-y-morwr are convinced that the intensive grazing model will benefit our land, our grass, and our income, and we will still be able to make the hay we need for the winter.  We will still need Hay Guy’s services, which is a good thing – he’s been cutting hay here for more than 30 years.  Though he has a very conventional mindset with regard to farming, he used to have a small dairy herd when he was younger, and I know we will rely on him a lot when we get started with four wheel drive fermentation barrels.

That’s the end of the Joel Salatin Workshop series of posts.  Take away messages?  Farming is portable.  It’s about healing the land.  Stacking enterprises is beneficial, economical and more productive overall – cows graze grass, chickens sanitize pasture for cows, and provide eggs, cow patties and chicken manure fertilize fields, grass grows better, cows grow better, more beef, etc.  Sound farming models are scaleable – 2 cows or 200 cows.  Don’t get locked into infrastucture or thinking that confines you.  Go out and grow some food.  And as Joel always finishes every talk:  May your children rise up to call you blessed.

p.s.  As I was getting ready to post this, I found out that Polyface experienced a twister on the weekend, destroying 30 broiler pens out on pasture, and an eggmobile.  As bad as the pictures on the Polyface Henhouse blog look, the only loss of life was some chickens; others in the area were less fortunate.

Cutting the Hay

Our 2 acre field got cut yesterday morning.  Not before time – it’s about 4 ft high, starting to go to seed and patches are permanently knocked down by the rain, wind and weight of the grass heads.  It spattered rain throughout the day yesterday, and then rained properly all night.  Fabulous. Welcome to making hay on the “wet” coast.

The hay guy made the best call he could in the circumstances.  The weather forecast was 40% chance of rain last night, followed by 3 days of sun, 2 days of cloud and then more rain.  The way this last few weeks has been shaping up, that’s a good hay week, so he got down to it.  If the hay has to get rained on, right after it’s been cut is the least bad time – it’s still full of it’s own moisture, so it just starts out damper than it might have, meaning a longer drying time. It’s much worse when the hay has been drying for a couple of days and then gets rained on.   The three day window of sun is not really long enough after that rain, but hay guy has a solution for that.  He and his buddy up the road (also a hay guy – they’re business competitors but friends) bought a macerator together.  The purpose of the macerator is to crimp the hay, which speeds up the drying process by about a day.  In our climate this is a lifesaver to hay guys, obviously. Unfortunately for hay guy there is a belief locally, whether it’s base on fact or not I’m uncertain, that horses don’t do well on macerated hay – and since most local hay is going to horse owners, that’s a problem.  Too bad there aren’t more beef producers here, since apparently cattle like the macerated hay.

The hay guy has a dilemma with hay like mine – it’s mixed species, with a lot of native grass in it.  I happen to think this is a good thing, especially since my plan is to start sheep on it next year, but hay guy has spent his life trying to make perfect hay, and to his mind that would be only certain species of grass that he intended to be in the bale.  His equestrian hay buyers agree with his point of view on hay, so my hay will be reserved for the sheep owners and less fussy horse owners.  As a result, hay guy can use the macerator on my hay without much worry that it will ruin a sale.

In ideal weather conditions, hay guy would cut my hay mid afternoon, come back the next day, about mid-morning, after the dew is gone and “ted” it – that means fluff it all up and strew it around.  He would do that again the next day, and if it’s hot and sunny and he’s happy with the moisture level in the grass (he’ll walk through part of the field and feel different handfuls of it), he’d bale the next day after that.  In my childhood, the bales then got stooked in the field to dry out a bit more for another day, before being stacked in the barn.  These days hay guy has fancy auto-loading hay wagons that scoop the bales up from their rows and stacks them till it’s full – he does this the same day he bales, and then hauls them back to his open sided hay barns – which is why he can do it same day – if the hay was closed in with walls, it could overheat and self combust.

In these less than ideal conditions, I noticed today that hay guy didn’t do any tedding until this afternoon, long after it stopped raining this morning; it was nice and windy this afternoon, which will help.  Tomorrow, I’m betting he’ll run it through the macerator in the morning and ted it in the afternoon, and again on Wednesday.  He”s probably hoping he can get it dry enough to bale on Thursday, but it may have to be Friday, which is looking cloudy in the forecast.  I’m crossing my fingers for him.  And for me, since he pays me for the hay he takes off – about 4 tons on that field.

I would prefer for that hay to not ever leave my farm – I’d like for the grass to be eaten by my own animals, and deposited back on the land as fertilizer – but I’m not in a position to enact that cycle yet, and in the meantime, hay guy is very good at his job.  Moreover, we’re neighbours, have been since we were in grade 9.  His mum cooked casseroles for my Dad when my mum was losing out to cancer.  His wife gave my daughter riding lessons in exchange for stable work.  He started cutting hay on this place almost as soon as he had a driver’s license to take a tractor on the road, which means he’s been doing it for more than 30 years.  He knows what my plans are, and it was he who made my poultry pen dolly based on the photo from Joel Salatin’s book (I paid him with a frozen chicken, and some eggs), and he’s interested.  Fortunately, since my grass is not his “best” grass, and my fields are small (how many times has he asked if we want the hedges taken out – to make it easier for machinery – we don’t), this won’t be a significant financial loss to him, especially since about half the acres will still need to be cut for hay, but we’ll both know it’s the start of a new way of doing things.