Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday Farm Photos: In the Circle of Hay

Time to Cut Hay 1
This is all that's left of last year's hay.

Time to Cut Hay 2
And this is the hayfield. . .
Time to Cut Hay 3

Time to Cut Hay 4

Time to Cut Hay 5

Time to Cut Hay 6

Time to Cut Hay 7

Time to Cut Hay 8

Time to Cut Hay 9

Time to Cut Hay 10

Time to Cut Hay 11

Time to Cut Hay 12

Time to Cut Hay 13

Time to Cut Hay 14
So it begins again. . .

I can't believe it's haying season already—but I think I say that every year. We put up our own square bales of organic hay, which feed the sheep and donkeys through the winter and early spring.

We don't have a haying crew; it's just the two of us and the canine supervisors (except for the year baby Cary joined us). Joe does most of the work—he cuts, tedders (fluffs up), rakes, and bales the hay, and then we load the bales onto the trailer and stack them in the haybarn.

Bringing in the hay is the hardest, hottest, sweatiest job on the farm, and to be honest, we both dread it. Each bale of hay weighs between 40 and 75 pounds, and each one is handled four or five times between field and haybarn. Last year we put up about 800 bales of hay, which fed 52 sheep, 30 spring lambs, and six donkeys—but only because we very carefully doled it out, feeding several times a day instead of all at once so less would get wasted.

Thanks to several inches of recent rainfall, the hayfield is looking pretty good this year, although the grass isn't as thick as we were hoping it would be. We're at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to our hay crop. No hay means no winter food for the critters. Buying hay is sometimes an option, but hardly anybody puts up square bales around here anymore, and if you are able to find them, they're pricey, have probably been fertilized with chemicals, and are never as nice as ours.

This is always an anxious time of year for us. Will we get enough spring rain for the grass to grow? One year we didn't put up any hay at all. Will the cut hay get rained on? You don't want this to happen, but sometimes there's no way around it. Will the bales get rained on before we can bring them all in from the field? You really don't want this to happen. Will our antique tractors and haying equipment break down? Last year we had to borrow two different tractors to get the hay in. Will we be picking up bales in the dark? Been there, done that more than once. Will we be able to physically do this? Gosh, I hope so.

According to the aerial photo map of our farm that the USDA sends us every couple of years, our hayfield is about 16 acres. We break it down into sections and only cut part of it at a time because there's no way we could bring in that many bales at once, and the bales suffer if they're left overnight in the field, especially if the morning mist comes up—and they're pretty much ruined if they get rained on.

Part of me hopes that this year we'll get more than 800 bales, and part of me wonders how we're even going to be able to manage that many. Each year it gets a little harder.

Joe is almost done baling up yesterday's cutting, which means I need to put on my work boots and overalls, fill up a big jug of ice water, make sure there's plenty of homebrewed beer chilling down for later, grab my heavy gloves, and prepare for a very long evening. Putting up your own hay is extremely rewarding—but only once it's over.

I hope your weekend is filled with a lot less work than ours!

Want to spend some more time in the hay?




© Copyright 2010 FarmgirlFare.com, the sweaty and itching foodie farm blog where I didn't know the first thing about putting up hay (or feeding hay, for that matter) when I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to rural Missouri 15 years ago, and there are times when I wish I still didn't—but when it's snowing like crazy next winter, there'll be no sight more beautiful than our barn full of homegrown hay.

15 comments:

  1. It is so much work to be a farmer. I respect you!

    Have you ever seen the movie Sweet Land? It is about a German woman who comes to America to marry a Norwegian bachelor farmer. It's a good movie and has a scene where the two of them deal with their harvest that reminds me of this post.

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  2. These are the kinds of things that people who don't live on farms need to know about so that they make informed decisions about thinking they want to live on a farm! :) Thanks for sharing the whole story...
    blessings
    ~*~

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  3. Dante might call it the Fifth Circle of Hay.
    You are amazing.

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  4. Hi there
    Just found your blog today and just love it! I am a farmgirl myself so we have lots in common...
    xoxo
    Diane

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  5. Look at this way, you don't have to spend time and money going to a gym. Take care, both of you.

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  6. I remember when I was in Jr. High School, my dad put up hay for two elderly ladies and he put my brother and myself to work. I was the only buff 7th grader in my school. We don't put up hay anymore...no more animals to feed, but I remember those days and know that they helped make me who I am today.

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  7. What great farm scenes and I know it's a lot of hard work. The corn has been planted here for a good while now, way ahead of schedule. Have a good day!

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  8. Farming is a lot of work, but living in the country and owning a farm is so rewarding. I miss my farm, ( I divorced four years ago and we had a farm). I still live in the country, but on a small piece of property where I don't have the room. I do have nine hens and a rooster, and five doves, but I miss my Donkeys, pigs and cows. You have a beautiful place, and I love that you share it with us fellow bloggers! (I do get to visit two horses, a Donkey, and many cows next door to us!)

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  9. Make hay while the sun shines! : ) You're anxious questions about the crops, the equipment, and the weather remind me all too much of Little House. Sigh. It's good to have faith that everything works for your own highest good. And I like the comment above about 'at least you don't have to pay to go to a gym'. : ) Always a plus. Good luck this weekend! And enjoy your homebrew, I didn't have a chance to make any this spring. I am envious!

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  10. Wow. 16 acres! Your pictures bring back memories of my father bringing in the hay (square bales) when I was little. I was too young to lift them back then; though, I did get to pick rock every so often! Hard work, but good work. Thank you for sharing.

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  11. It appears to me that the bulk of your effort seems to be manually loading the bales from ground to wagon. Now, making hay is not my forte, I've never done it (I grew up in the tropics); but there do exist balers that do square bales, but instead of dumping them on the ground, toss or push the bale onto a wagon towed behinf the baler. I located some pictures of this implement at

    http://www.agrability.com/assistivetech/tips/hayhandling.cfm

    (Scroll down to the "balers" heading.)

    The contraption is called (gasp!) a bale thrower. I assume they are expensive. You might, however, find one used, especially since you are in farmland USA. These things have been around for quite some time. It would give you more time to publish your recipes, which have an uncanny tendency to appear just when I need them!

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  12. Ew. Good luck. Drink lots of beer.

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  13. Have you ever thought about managing your hay fields for grassland birds? Not to give you something more to think about, but since you're already mowing in sections instead of doing it all at once, it might be pretty easy for you to do. I know you're in MO, not MA, but the following document is a good overview and might give you some idea of whether you're interested or not: http://tinyurl.com/2b6uuqf. If this turns out to be something you're interested in, I'd be happy to help you find more local resources (I'm an ecologist working for the above-linked nonprofit).

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  14. Just looking at your pictures makes me itchy! I grew up on a cattle farm, and have put up my fair share of square bales. Nothing like having to wear long sleeves and pants in the sweltering heat...we even had a beat up old Massey-Ferguson too! Backbreaking work, but I do miss it a bit now that I live in the city.

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  15. And I feel sorry for myself lugging baskets of laundry up and down two flights of stairs! (I have teenagers, and as much as they try to help, the towels alone would make Sysiphus ask for his rock-rolling job back).

    So now I'm visualizing lugging laundry as baling hay -- sheep need hay, teens need towels -- and poof! That black cloud of resentment is gone. The dank, cobwebby basement laundry room melts into a sweet-smelling, newly mown hayfield in the morning mist.... Thanks for the inspiring post!

    My word verification word is "fusnated" -- sounds like one of Yosemite Sam's fake cusswords!

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