Some of you may not know this simple fact (e.g. city-slickers): Hay is livestock fodder for over winter (or in a drought) when there isn’t enough pasture to go around. This may seem like common knowledge, but you’d be surprised. Whilst assuming this in the back of my mind, I realised I knew nothing at all about haymaking.
Warning: The following material contains a lot of hay. Sufferers of hay-fever beware.
I recently learnt that it’s usual for farmers to close up a number of paddocks over summer to let the grass go to seed. The seed heads in the grass contain abundant nutrients, distinguishing hay from plain old straw. It’s then cut, turned, and baled – all with the use of a tractor and three separate pieces of perplexing machinery, respectively, in tow.
Two of our paddocks were “shut up” for hay for a couple months, and for the past week the farmer who leases our land has been popping out every day to process it. Part of the lease arrangement was that we’d get to keep the majority of the bales but we hope to sell quite a few of them.
In the area, where hay is plentiful, a bale goes for around five bucks. Back up in Auckland these are usually twice the price, and when they’re scarce potentially triple. Perhaps we’ll pay the Auckland pony clubs a wee visit in a transport truck over winter… Hay-ho!
Here’s our farmer doing the first part of the process, cutting:
The attachment being used is basically a giant lawn mower except with two big spinning blades instead of just one.
Afterwards, it looks lovely all in rows.
And here’s the farmer the next day, turning the hay with a different attachment, which helps to aerate it and dry it out:
These instruments of farming confound me. They appear at once simple and puzzling, yet their design is so effective that there has been few improvements in almost a hundred years. When I look at something like this, and how well it does the job it was intended for, I can’t help but be awed by the idea of ancient farmers who, for thousands of years, achieved the same result with little more than hand tools and horse-drawn cart.
Lastly, before baling, he turns the mowed hay again and this time combs it into tidy rows:
Time to bring out the hungry baler!
This thing eats people. Seriously. A local told us the horrifying story of a recent baler “mishap” in which one unlucky fellow got his shirt snagged on the spinning PTO driveshaft and was sucked through, only to be spat out in pieces. Needless to say, he did not survive. Right around Christmas, too. Not cool, baler. Not cool. I will be giving this bastard a wide berth.
We actually bought this old machine from the previous owner of our farm. We figured we’d be needing it and we might as well save ourselves the trouble of sourcing one elsewhere and dealing with the transport. It’s pretty beat up and needs some spare parts, but apparently it does the trick. It seems the thing to do when you have missing parts is to substitute them with the likes of a soda can, such as in this tractor hub cap. Whatever works, fellas…
There were a few hiccups before they got it going. Namely threading the baling twine correctly and plopping dollops of grease here and there. The whole thing, we thought, seemed like a giant sewing machine. I suppose it’s more like a parcelling machine, you might say, since it compacts hay into neat cuboids and strings them up with twine. The farmer had his brother with him to help out. As you can see by their attire, these are real country gentlemen.
We had no idea what they were actually doing. We’d catch a word here and there, but I think we’d better study this thing’s manual. In depth.
“Ah, there’s your problem. The jig-hickey isn’t wound onto the watchama-bob, and your doodad’s gone all giddy.”
Once it got going it was entertaining to watch our very first hay bales being tidily pooped out the bum-end of this contraption. I was eager to lift one to see what kind of weight I’d be having to heave a few hundred times. I’d say each weighed about twenty kilograms.
In preparation I’d lined the barn with some junk wood to keep the bales off the floor. The last thing you want is moisture wicking up from the ground and rotting them all. Apparently I’d put them in the wrong direction, however, because when I came back later I’d found that someone had repositioned them to run short-ways. Not sure why. I think it perhaps has something to do with how the bales would be stacked.
On the first day of baling a bunch of neighbours turned up to help. This was surprising to us city-folk. Apparently that’s just how things are done. Baling is so weather-dependent that you can’t risk your bales getting wet, so it’s all hands on deck if there are ominous clouds looming. Even in good weather it seems that help from across the road is expected. It is a momentous task, after all, and many hands make light work. So long as there’s a beer for everyone at the end, we were told, they were happy to assist.
I tried my best to pull my own weight, especially since they were going to be our bales, but I felt like I was just getting in the way of the pros. Like I was butting into the middle of a very efficient assembly line. They had done this a hundred times since youth, and they had a rhythm and process that I felt my cumbersome ineptitude only hindered.
When the second paddock was baled a couple days later, I was more confident in my hay-hauling abilities. It was quite fun, actually, jumping on and off the trailer, heaving the bales aboard in a joint effort to get them stacked in the barn. Bloody hot work in the middle of a summer day. Char was free to help with a couple of loads over her lunch break, too. She took to it with greater knack than I. Farming’s in her genes.
The first paddock filled almost half of our barn. The bale count was two-hundred-thirteen. The lease farmer took a trailer-load with him, and we sold fifty to our neighbour.
The second paddock gave us another two-hundred-eighty-one, putting our tally close to five-hundred.
Even our kitty, Mica, came to investigate the new jungle-gym. Beware, nesting swallows.
Amusingly, Mica was leaping across rafters when she suddenly miscalculated. Next moment there’s this little kitten hanging on for dear life by her front paws. I lunged out to save her, but I wasn’t fast enough. She fell to the floor of the barn from four metres up, hitting a piece of timber with a thud on the way down. Half-laughing and half-concerned, we rushed to peer over the edge. She looked up, confused. We jumped down and inspected her for injury. Needless to say, she’s a cat. Nine lives. A few minutes later she was happily shitting in the paddock and bounding through the long grass.
Next summer we’ll probably have to do all this ourselves; cutting, turning, baling, and stacking. We have a few friends in mind to come help us with, what will undoubtedly be, a sluggish and laborious effort. You know who you are.