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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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.