Our First Time Baling Hay

Posted by Nick  | 15 Mar 2016  | 8 comments

Haymaking, we knew, would be a big learning curve. We’d watched the pros do it on our farm the season before, but this year it was our turn. At the guidance of the resourceful farmer who has been leasing part of our land, we learnt enough to cut, ted, windrow, and bale a paddock of hay all by ourselves. It was a daunting task on our to-do list, but now that we’ve learnt how all the machinery works and we’ve done it alone without a hitch (well, almost), we’re instilled with confidence for next year.

The first part of the week-long task was to cut the grass. This involved attaching a large mower to the PTO (Power Take-Off) mechanism at the back of the tractor. This is the tractor’s drive shaft that turns the implement. Most powered farm implements are universally attached in this way, kind of like a USB to our techie kin. Learning how to attach a three-point linkage was a big step in itself. For some reason, you start to feel like a real bad-ass when it becomes second nature.

With the heavy mower elevated by the hydraulics, a pin is removed and the blades are swung out to the side, and the pin is replaced.

I won’t go into detail (that can be another post), but after a bit of fluffing around making sure angles are correct and what-not, the mowing begins!

The grass was a lot shorter than last season, because it had recently been cut for silage. But that’s all right – it meant less bales for us to pick up!

Char and I took turns going around and around the paddock.

This was a fairly flat paddock, so it was kind of enjoyable. Being newbies, what I can imagine becoming a mundane chore was not yet so. It was all going well…

…until I drove the mower into a power pole…

…and totally bent one of the feet.

Yup, that’s meant to be facing forward, not to the side. Cringe. With the full force of a tractor twisting solid iron, it was impossible for us to bend it back without something like a blow-torch to soften it.

We considered ramming it with the tractor, but the placement of the bolt meant that it would just shear off if the foot was pushed in the other direction. We messed around with it for a bit, but decided (at the suggestion of our neighbour), that we’d take it in to get repaired properly at some point before next year’s haymaking.

I blame this hiccup on a variety of factors. Firstly, I was not familiar with the physics of a turning tractor with a large mower sticking out the side like the wing of an aeroplane; when you turn, it swings in a wide and deceptive arc. Secondly, the tractor’s brakes are shot (yes, we’re getting them fixed, but you can’t just drive your tractor into the local garage when you live fifty kilometres from town), which meant my gut reaction to stomp on the brakes did nothing. Lastly, I made the mistake of not depressing the clutch because I was on a hill and didn’t know what the mower would do if the tractor rolled backwards, which meant the PTO continued to drive me forwards. Combine all these with not giving the power pole a wide enough berth, and you get some very nearly soiled underpants.

Nevertheless, the mower still worked, so continue to mow we did.

Still worked great, in fact.

The next day came the tedding with a tedder. What’s a tedder, I hear you ask? It’s an implement used to aerate or “wuffle” the hay. (So many terms.) This is our tedder:

She’s an old boy (that pronoun blunder was unintentional, but I’m keeping it to challenge gender norms). Been passed between the locals since “Jesus was a cowboy”, as I heard one of them say. It’s a PZ Haybob, top of the line back in its heyday (ha!). We bought it off the previous owner of our farm for a clean hundy (as did we the mower and baler for a decent price, too).

It’s falling to pieces, really. We were told by our farmer-guide that we’d need to replace most of those bent and broken tines before it could be used. But it was too late, we had already mown, and hay needs to be turned daily. So we implored a neighbour. They had borrowed our baler the year before, and they needed to borrow it again, so asking to borrow their tedder seemed like a good trade. He even came around and tedded the paddock himself for the first run. Country-folk are so lovely.

After he was done, he had a look at our tedder, and said that if we swapped some of the broken tines around, we may be able to get it working. So that afternoon we spent a lot of elbow grease pulling apart seized-up nuts and bolts and rotating tedder tines.

The next day we gave tedding a go ourselves with our rusty dinosaur. And it worked! Not the best… but it did the trick.

After mowing and tedding the second paddock (which was the one we did without help), I needed to go around and spread the clumps of hay that had accumulated because of the mower’s bent foot. It had dragged hay along the ground into bunches, you see, and the tedder couldn’t chew them out properly. More work for me; suitable punishment for my lapse in judgement.

A pitchfork would be really handy, I thought, but I didn’t have one. Then I remembered the collection of old rusty iron things we had salvaged from around the farm. The head of a pitchfork was among them. I cleaned it up and fashioned it to a spare rake handle (not ideal, but it’d do).

A couple hours later and I’d scattered the large mounds which the tedder couldn’t stomach.

After you ted for a few days, you’re ready to windrow and bale. Windrowing is basically tedding again, but with “gates” attached, which are designed to comb the hay into rows which make it easier for the baler to gather.

Like our tedder, its gates are pretty shitty too, so our rows weren’t tidy, but we’ll see to fixing that by next year.

Then came the time to confront the real workhorse of the operation, the baler. Both the mower and the tedder are relatively tame and comparatively simple implements compared to the baler. The baler is a complex and temperamental beast. It’s basically a large greasy sewing machine. A sewing machine that can eat you…

The intricate stringing and cutting gears were intimidating to inspect. But really, if you follow instructions (and let Char nut out the complexities), it’s not so scary.

There were a lot of nipples that needed greasing. We greased those nipples good. Greasy nipples. Nipple. Okay, immature moment over. In case you don’t know what grease nipples are, let me explain. They’re little points, usually near moving parts, which you squeeze grease into with a grease gun to lubricate the machinery’s joints.

The baling twine was stocked and tied and ready to roll!

And there I am, baling hay, like… like a grown-up farmer man person. Except I wear a tea-towel under my hat to keep it real.

The baler is clunky, noisy, and hungry. Here’s a couple of quick videos of it in operation:

Surprisingly, everything went swimmingly. Not a single mishap with the baler. No sheared bolt (which can happen if it eats an obstruction), no split twine, not loose bales, and most importantly, no devoured farmers. All good!

It probably helped that the hay was sparse. The more hay, the higher the chance of clogging the mechanism and shearing a bolt.

It’s very satisfying watching a baler poo. It excretes tidy little packages out its rear end.

After we’d finished baling, we attached the trailer to pick up the bales. We recently bought this handy towing apparatus for the tractor’s three-point-linkage. Invaluable when you don’t have a four-wheel-drive truck.

With only two of us, we were lucky there was only fifty six bales to collect from the paddock we did alone (last year was three hundred with half a dozen helping hands).

A couple of trailer loads stacked in the barn, and our big day was complete. We kept enough for our animals over winter (hopefully), and sold the rest to a couple of neighbours.

We’re feeling very accomplished after learning all we did, solving problems, and dealing with the stress of timing baling with the unpredictable seasonal weather changes. Haymaking is probably the most intensive and stressful part of farming, but we’re glad it’s only for one or two weeks out of the year. Despite that, though, the sense of pride in a job well done and the relief of having winter feed stocked and sorted is well worth the effort.

Mission complete!

New Ladies on the Scene

Posted by Nick  | 09 Mar 2016  | 4 comments

About a month ago we doubled our flock of chooks. Four new ladies are on the scene, and we kept with the tradition of different breeds. We now have eight unique flavours of chicken. (They’re ornamental, all right?) Here they are on arrival, chilling out in a cat crate and a trap, acclimatising to their new home and their future bullies.


In addition to Ladies Edith (Blue Orpington), Rose (Buff-Laced Wyandotte), Sybil (Plymouth Rock), and Mary (Silver-Laced Wyandotte), named after Downton Abbey characters, we now have Daenerys (Araucana), Cersei (Barnevelder), Sansa (Gold-Pencilled Hamburg), and Arya (Silver-Spangled Hamburg), named after Game of Thrones characters. Yes, there will probably come a point where we stop naming our chickens…


The older ladies were mildly interested in the new arrivals. It was nice for them to meet without squabbling (which they did later that night in the coop).


They’re loving it here, grubbing, scratching, squawking about.


That’s Daenerys, the Araucana, above. Ain’t she a beaut? She’ll have green eggs. Looks kind of like a pigeon. In fact, we joke that our new breeds are really pigeon, pukeko, pheasant, and road-runner.


That’s Arya, the Silver-Spangled Hamburg. See, road-runner, right?


And Sansa, the Gold-Pencilled Hamburg. Hamburgs are known for being a bit more flighty and agile.


Gorgeous markings. Very pheasant-y.


Behind Sansa, above, is Cersei, the beaten-up Barnevelder. You may notice she has no tail feathers (making her look like a pukeko). That’s because the other chickens at the breeder’s were mean to her. Since coming to live with us and having her own space, her feathers are growing back quickly.

The newbies get along fairly well with the Downton girls (no pecking, at least), but each clique still keeps to itself. Hopefully they’ll mingle when the newbies are fully grown. There might even be a challenge to Lady Rose’s throne, wouldn’t that be exciting? It’d be a Game of Thrones, you could say… Furthermore, because I can’t let a bad pun go to waste, I’ll say that we chose to get more chickens because egg production slows down in the cold months, and winter is coming


The coveted pink bucket, known to all the animals as FOOD!


They learnt fast that bravery would be rewarded.


They’ve made home in the coop after being locked in for the first couple of nights, thankfully.


And they’re already opening the scary feeder all by themselves. We think it may have helped for them to learn from the older ladies.


Sansa is already laying!


And her little eggs are adorable. There’s one compared to one of big-bummed Sybil’s.

Welcome, Daenerys, Cersei, Sansa, and Arya!

Meet Pacman & Alpacino

Posted by Nick  | 06 Mar 2016  | 6 comments

Today Char and I have been together for nine years. For most of that time we had a dream, a dream which came true when we moved to the middle of nowhere over a year ago. The multi-faceted landscape of that dream, for some reason, always included the presence of alpacas. So, for this year’s anniversary, I surprised Char with our very first two. Meet Pacman and Alpacino:

They came with different names, but it was years ago that we joked about “Pacman” and “Alpacino” as the names of our first alpacas.

Alpacas are gentle, docile, comical creatures. They have a sort of nervous curiosity about them, which, when partnered with their enormous glossy eyeballs and absurd appendages, makes them seem otherworldly. E.T. comes to mind.

Their behaviour is unique among animals you might usually find on a farm. They have a communal dung pile, they hum and coo to comfort themselves and their buddies, and, well, read up on their mating habits… both peculiar and charming.

Char was stunned and overjoyed to find a couple of alpacas in the yard when she arrived home from Auckland on Friday. She’s an avid animal lover, and couldn’t wait to tame them. We spent the afternoon getting acquainted with the boys, enticing them with sheep nuts and chaff from the coveted pink bucket (the bucket which will have you swarmed by sheep if you’re not careful).

Alpacino, the brown alpaca, is almost three, and Pacman is almost two. You’d be surprised how much pricier young females are in comparison, which answers the question of why I got slightly older boys.

The pair are half-brothers and are best of friends – inseparable said the breeders (QTAZ Alpacas in Paeroa). They do not fight, despite their bollocks being intact. We wonder how their friendship might change if we ever throw a sexy female into the mix… They’ve had the odd spat (literally, they spit at each other) over who gets the treats first, but other than that they’re good buddies. We’ve only had them for a weekend so far, and they’re already warming up to us and allowing us to give them the odd head-scratch over a bucket full of nuts.

I had a bit of a fright on the first night they arrived at the farm. Pacman, above, almost died.

There was only one place I could put the alpacas until Char got back (because of temporary fencing reasons), which happened to be our yard. Our yard has a large rhododendron growing in it. Rhododendron is extremely poisonous to alpaca. One leaf can kill them, even a dried one apparently. So I’d spent the day pruning back this large tree and reinforcing the fencing around it, in preparation for their arrival. I even put the catcher on the mower to collect all the dried leaves it had dropped, at the suggestion of the breeders who dropped the boys off. The breeders also said my setup was fine – so I was confident they were in the clear.

After spending the afternoon watching over them and scouring the ground for stray rhododendron leaves, I went inside to shower. When I glanced out the bathroom window, I spotted Pacman tugging at some tiny leaves which were growing out of a little stump. Shit. What kind of plant was that? I hadn’t even seen it when I was clearing the yard.

A couple of hours after dark Pacman is foaming at the mouth, spluttering, gagging, and coughing. Shit, shit, shit. I’ve killed one of our first alpacas. Happy anniversary…?

They hadn’t gone anywhere near the rhododendron, so I was hoping that whatever stump he plucked didn’t belong to another old chopped-down rhododendron. I was in no way familiar with alpaca behaviour, so I didn’t know if his reaction was related to car-sickness after his long journey, or if he’d eaten too much dry chaff and not drunken enough. It wasn’t until I went online to search his symptoms that I panicked.

It was pretty clear that he was poisoned, and I had no medical supplies on hand, like activated charcoal. So, around midnight, I wake up two after-hours vet receptionists, whose phone manners were groggy and annoyed, unsurprisingly. Zero assistance from them, because I wasn’t registered. Great, thanks. So, I call the breeders. They helped calm me down a bit. But yup, probably rhodo poisoning, they said. You’d better move the alpacas to another paddock so they don’t eat any more, they said.

Oh, and you’d better do it alone, at midnight, in the dark, and miles from anywhere.

So there I am, panicked out of my mind, isolated and alone and unable to communicate my emergency to Char without spoiling the surprise, putting up guidelines through three paddocks with a torch wedged into one armpit and a stack of standards spilling out of the other.

The gates were open, the guides were up, I was ready to usher the alpacas through. But no, they don’t behave like sheep, and with one person it was practically impossible to coax them through. So, that hour wasted, I took down the guides, fetched some sheep standards, and strung up a couple of lines of hot tape, dividing the yard into two. One half with the rhododendron, the other with the alpacas. This worked. They did not challenge the fence like I thought they might (since they were unfamiliar with hot tape). It was now 2 a.m.

I turned my attention to Pacman. And then, after all that, he coughs a couple more times, shakes off his mouth-foam, and goes to fucking sleep.

I checked on him again at 3 a.m. and he was fine. Totally fine. One hundred percent fine. FINE! The next morning, he was happy as anything. I wasn’t… It was a tough night.

Pacman certainly earned his name that day, eating something he shouldn’t have. Whatever it was, luckily it seemed only mildly disagreeable. I’ll say this, though – we’ll definitely be signing up to a livestock vet clinic and stocking up on medical supplies!

In the end, both Pacman and Alpacino are content little sweethearts, happy and healthy, warming up, and enjoying life alongside our growing family of chickens and cat – which they take great pleasure in sniffing and chasing.