Haymaking this year was a resounding success. Celebration! Haymaking may sound like one of the most mundane chores to ever be celebrated, but for a week out of every year everything has to go perfectly to plan, otherwise we miss out on about five thousand big ones. So as newbie farmers, we’re pretty thrilled to have succeeded for our second year in a row! I’m sure the animals will be thanking us come winter, too…
Firstly there was a bit of the ol’ maintenance to be done on all of our implements.
The mower had been repaired after I drove it into a power pole last year. Yup, that totally happened. The black parts in this photo show the new iron welded on:
But the mower’s blades were still well overdue for replacing. Us modern farmers have it easy being able to find almost anything online.
The tedder (used for turning and windrowing hay) needed almost all of its tines replaced, which were bent, broken, and corroded. This machine is probably more than fifty years old, so it was a surprise to find replacement parts for it online, and in New Zealand to boot.
It was a bit of a mission removing the rusted and fused bolts, but a good ratchet set and a lot of elbow grease got us through.
It’s always super useful to have a farm cat around in these instances. Not because they help – they do jack shit. But because they give you those “aww” moments precisely when you’re feeling a little fed up with how stubborn inanimate machines can be. A brief interlude of feline petting is sometimes all you need to chill the fuck out.
All you have to do is make sure you have some sort of box on hand, and a farm cat will magically appear.
Then there was the baler, which we were told needed a new bearing for one of its main axles. It was only when we went to remove the old bearing did we discover that the entire carriage had been bent in some collision, popping the axle through. What do you think an old farmer’s solution to this might be? Yep, they just welded the bearing onto the carriage to hold up the axle… Great job Steve/Gary/John/Bruce/ (insert generic farmer’s name here).
It turned out, at closer inspection, that the weld had broke, which meant the axle was just turning in a hole, which can be pretty dangerous and start fires. You do NOT want fire around hay (unless your farm has murderous scarecrows, which ours thankfully does not).
Looks like crap, eh? Welcome to Second-hand Farm Implements for Beginners.
Not having time to get it professionally repaired, we didn’t have much choice but to ask a neighbour to weld it back in place for the time being. But then I had a brilliant idea (I’m a certified genius, by the way). I could brace the bearing and axle with a metal bracket, pushing it against the flange, allowing it to turn freely. I bolted the bracket onto the carriage with a bolt that was already holding the bung guiding wheel up. I forgot to take a closeup picture, but this is the best I have:
You can kind of see the axle and bearing being lifted by the bracket, which was super snug and held strong. It actually worked fine the entire time we used it… until the neighbour borrowed our baler a couple of days later and the thing flew off somewhere in his paddock… Oops. (Yeah, about that genius thing…)
We’ll get it seen to properly before next year. (Note to future self: It’s haymaking time again already, and you didn’t get the baler fixed, did you?)
So! Once everything had had a thorough greasing and we remembered all that we had forgotten about operating machinery over the past year, come the first sunny day it was time to mow. But oh, wait. There was a whole lot of ragwort (a notoriously persistent weed in these parts which is somewhat poisonous to stock) through the paddock. So I had to drive around on the quad hacking the stuff up before mowing the paddock. Luckily it is a distinct and easy to spot weed with its yellow flowers.
We decided to mow a single paddock this year instead of the two we did last year, but the single paddock is our largest and about the same area as the combined area of the two we did last year. I had to do this while Char was away for work in Auckland. It’s always a little bit scary getting familiar with heavy machinery by yourself. I don’t quite have that farmer’s “knack” just yet to be able to fix things and deal with problems on the fly.
But, thankfully, there were no hiccups.
Then, over the next couple of days, I had to turn the hay to dry it out in the sun.
Char arrived home on Friday, along with her sister, Aria, who had come down to get away from her loud life in the city and to help us haul bales. While I tedded in the hot sun, they took a refreshing dip down at our little waterfall.
Our loyal friend Dingus, who is always keen to escape city life and bust his back in the country for a few days, drove down to help, with the promise of a full belly and tank of gas as thanks. On Saturday, he and I attacked the old broken barn door, which had been dangerously hanging on its last limbs for months. A recent storm had damaged it further. We’re going to have to build a new one before winter to protect our hay from the rain (as of this post, we’ve already started this project).
Wanting to reuse the wood, we spent a good while pulling out nails and dislodging old hinge straps and gudgeons. Man, was it a shittily-built door. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that in “those days” they just used whatever they had on hand and didn’t have the luxury of forking out for some proper hardware. (Still, a bit of conscientious design can go a long way…)
On the day of baling, first I had to windrow the hay into tidy lines so that the baler could more easily pick it up. Windrowing is done with the tedder with a couple of gated wings attached, which combs the hay into neat rows.
Kind of satisfying:
It took a little over an hour to windrow the entire paddock. Much faster than mowing, which took closer to three and a half hours.
While I was doing that, Char, Dingus, and Aria were busy shifting the old hay to the side of the barn and putting down some slats of wood to keep the new bales off the ground.
Unsurprisingly, a clutch of chicken eggs were discovered behind the old bales. Cozy.
We’ll probably give it to our neighbour at a low price or even for free (since she helps out). She likes to use them to build little forts for her mis-mothered lambs in spring.
Old slats of wood to protect the hay from the damp ground, recycled from the old barn door:
Probably quite ineffective, but better than nothing. We’d like to pick up a bunch of pallets and use them at some stage.
After windrowing and well-deserved bacon sandwiches (a staple when we have people down), it was the moment of truth: Starting up the baler and hoping for the best. We probably should have tested it before the day, but luckily, with a few minor adjustments, it gobbled up that grass like nothing else.
While I was driving around at five-kilometres-per-hour, craning my neck constantly to check on the baler and line up the windrows, the others were hard at work running around the paddock shifting the bales into piles, which would make it easier to pick them up.
They hooked up the trailer to the ute, which is only two-wheel drive, and hoped for the best. Luckily most of the paddock is fairly flat and the ground was bone dry from a week of sun.
A little trailer meant quite a few trips back to the barn, but they managed to pile them pretty high! Those things aren’t light, either.
We were very impressed with young Aria, who seemed to be enjoying herself. It’s quite a novel experience, haymaking.
Our neighbours buy about fifty bales from us, so they turned up and picked up their lot, which we gave them a really good discount on, because they then continued picking up bales.
Another three neighbours turned up with a MASSIVE trailer. Unfortunately we didn’t get any photos of this, but each of their loads must have been over a hundred bales, and they did a couple of them. It was late in the afternoon when they showed up. Had they not, we don’t think we would have been done before sundown. In fact, we probably wouldn’t have had the energy to pick up another two hundred. When they need to buy some hay from us in winter, we’re going to thank them by giving them a ridiculously low price, or some for free. Seriously huge help. Same neighbours who we let graze their horse on our land over winter and they thanked us by giving us half a beast, of which our freezer is still full! Ah, rural neighbourliness is something else.
It was just before dusk when we finished, after eight o’clock.
What a day. It called for a celebratory pose:
And an attempt at another:
“No, we’ve got to do it like this…”
The next day we let the cows in to clean up the edges of the paddock where we hadn’t mown.
Ahh, a job well done. Gratifying, but thank fuck it’s only once a year.