Monday, July 14, 2008

Fancy a roll in the hay?

I always thought there was something romantic and intriguing about that often-mentioned roll in the hay you'd read in books or hear about in movies. After my hay experience (no rolling involved) this past Saturday, I can't think of anything I'd rather do less!

Cattle need hay and supplemental minerals, etc. during winter months as the grass they eat in pasture goes dormant and needs some time to recover to a lush, green restaurant come spring. We've had our cows on pasture since we got them, but it doesn't take a genius to see a) the grass isn't getting any higher in yard or pasture and b) what is out there is nearly fried to a crisp due to all the heat we've had lately. Our pregnant girls need all the high quality feed they can get to support their developing calves.

We put in for 200 bales from a reputable farmer who works with Paul, and have been waiting on pins and needles (in a haystack) for the Big Day - hay day. See, farmers in the know "make hay while the sun shines." Cut hay needs bright sunny, dry days to properly dry out. Hay bales that are damp in the middle can internally combust. Who wants their barn to erupt in flames in the middle of the night? Not us!

So, while over the past two weeks I passed countless hay trucks of various sizes and shapes hauling their loads to others' farms, we have been waiting by the phone for the call. Once you get the call, it's nearly drop-everything-and-go-buck-bales. You have to get your hay while the weather's good, and most fields are first come, first served, so you want to get yours before there's not enough left for you.

The farmer called Thursday evening with the news he'd be baling Friday and Saturday. We were to be to the field by noon on Saturday. As it turned out, there was only one other couple there getting hay Saturday afternoon, a nice couple we later met from Puyallup who buy 1100 bales a summer. YIKES. Paul and I spent a couple hours driving between rows of bales, hefting them up by their strings onto the borrowed car trailer, Paul frequently hopping up to reorganize. I pulled the truck forward periodically in low-range four wheel drive to get us through the still ankle-deep cut grass. The bales were gorgeous, although a problem with the baler that day did cause some tiny reject bales, which we passed on. A coyote watched us intently for a few minutes, and we watched some turkey vultures fly overhead hoping for a meal (I was disappointed they passed on the huge dead garter snake we pulled out of a bale).

I can remember thinking as we left the field this bucking hay bales gig isn't so bad. Ahem.

Back at home, it took another couple hours to unload our first take, 141 bales total (the farmer agreed to let us buy 250 instead of 200). Thankfully brother-in-law showed up to help, as by then I was about worn out from the effort and heat (and I'm sure Paul wasn't much better off). We took off again for an evening gather of our second load, 109 bales this time. With brother-in-law's and farmer's help, we had our quarry in no time, wrote the check for the take, and headed for home again, dirty, tired and showing wear. This time, unloading was much faster as the 12 x 12 foot enclosed stall made for simpler stacking. The weather was cooler by then, but the dust and hay particles flew and I shortly found myself wheezing worse than ever in my life. I excused myself from the task, headed for the house for a shower and contemplated at what point I'd have to call 911 for lack of breath. The shower was a great relief to my filth and the rash on both arms, and even helped the breathing somewhat. We were in bed by 10:30, and by morning I was greatly improved, although even today sound like I have a cold (just all the gunk in my lungs).

My lessons from the Great Haying Adventure:

1) Haying is dirty work. Expect to get really filthy.

2) Never mind the heat, wear a long-sleeved shirt. That will prevent discomfort from rashes, and having to explain to co-workers why your arms look like you have the pox.

3) No matter how hot it is or how unfashionable the following suggestion, wear a dust mask when unloading hay and stacking it in the barn.

4) Enjoy the smell of the freshly cut hay while you can still breathe, if you opt out of Suggestion 3.

5) Refrain from bitchy replies to husband's "helpful" suggestion to use your knee to kick the bale onto the top of the already boob-high stack. The amusement he wins from your sudden rage-motivated burst of energy isn't worth it.

A hay field similar to the one we worked in.


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