It is hay season in Ohio. This year it is also the rainy season. The hay crop is thick and lush this summer, we have had good rains and sunshine, both necessary for growing good hay. Our need to bale hay is to feed my horses, our son's horses and a friend's horses. We are talking nine horses total. That doesn't sound like many horses in the big picture. We don't bale tons of hay, nine acres. Wow, that is an acre per horse and we bale three times a year. Each time we bale the crop is thinner. Yesterday they baled about six acres and have three left to cut and bale. They put up about 450 bales. Maybe a couple hundred waiting to be baled. Richard didn't get in for supper until nine o'clock!
Our hay baling equipment falls into the antique division of farming. Richard uses his forty-four year old John Deere tractor, he bales with a baler that is thirty-five years old and the wagons pulled behind are sixty, fifty and twenty-five years old. Using this method for baling nine acres is okay, just antiquated. In Ohio many farmers are baling a lot more than nine acres. Our neighbor is baling our horse pasture today, the pictures are of him and his modern equipment. Bales are rarely man handled any more, these bales are much bigger and are moved and stacked with a fork on the front of the tractor.
I'm sure my wonderful husband gets an ulcer when it comes to hay season. Well, I think he started getting one back in the spring, it seems to flare up again this time of year. Everything to do with farming hinges on the weather. I can see the shift in his ability to cope in March and April. He starts worrying about when to get the corn planted. I call this time in his life "PPS" or Pre-Planting Syndrome. Richard farms the ground of a friend, only 62 acres in corn and beans. They also maintain 10 acres of wildlife area, planting corn and providing cover for the wild critters (every farm should be required to do this). To Richard it could be 1000 acres, for all the stress he goes through to get it done at the proper time.
Anyone who lives with a farmer knows their mental state is a little unstable. Getting the corn planted is one thing. The question is always; will it come up, what if we get a good frost and there is the constant battle with weeds. Then we go through the same thing with the planting of beans. He worries about flooding and replanting and getting the crops sprayed before they grow too big. So lets say crops went in the ground, have come up and are growing, he still worries if they are getting enough sun and enough rain. Taking a drive with him in the car is called "road farming." I hear how his corn isn't as tall or as green as someone else's. And then constant comparing of rain gauges from one side of town to our side of town happens after every rain. When fall comes so comes "PHS" or Pre-Harvest Syndrome. Because we have so few acres, Richard hires someone else to harvest the crops. Sixty-two acres are not the first on list for someone to harvest. Will the crop yield be good, will it be dry enough that we aren't docked for moisture content, do we sell any on the futures, what is the cost of storage until we sell next year? I'm always happy when crops are in and my wonderful husband can stop worrying about things he has no real control over. When winter comes we have a time to heal up the ulcers before it all starts again in March and April.
Back to hay season. When we were kids, we had to help with the hay and straw. We farmed around 200 acres and Dad had dairy cows and beef cattle to feed and bed for the winter. We worked really hard moving bales off the wagons and in the mow. It was hot work too, you baled hay when the sun was shining! Kids today have no idea how to do this kind of work. I know, I know, I'm from the old school. I say get the kids out of the house, let them find some summer work. Back in the day...... the boys loved working for the farmers, they got to toughen' up for football season, got a tan and had some extra money in their pockets! As my friend and I were remembering our times helping in the hay, she shares her favorite memory, it was the reward after the work was done. She said they always went to the Dairy Queen for a chocolate shake. Sweet, sweet memory!
Oh, okay, back to hay season................ So Richard listens to the weather morning, noon and night trying to figure out when the best time to cut hay. He and our friend are on the phone each morning, planning the strategy for the next day or the coming week. Meanwhile he is getting the mower, tedder and baler ready, their yearly check up and greasing. When the hay is cut, it is then tedded to fluff it up to dry better, if the ground is damp or there is heavy dew, it might be tedded again and then raked into rows to bale. Hay that gets rained on is always dusty and if it doesn't dry well can be moldy. All of these things are not good for the horses.
In our antiquated way of doing hay there is a tractor driver and one or two people on the wagon, stacking the hay to take to the barn. The hay is then unloaded and stacked in the barn. We always say, "Having hay in the barn is like having money in the bank." You never know when a year might yield bad hay or a drought with little or no hay. So I am pleased to announce we have hay in the barn and it didn't get wet! Oh, and my favorite thing about hay.... is how it smells in the barn. Nothing sweeter than new hay in the barn! My other favorite thing about the hay, I love watching my horses diving muzzle deep into a flake of hay on a cold snowy day in January!