For me, the biggest downside of farming is that my health doesn’t always agree with it, mostly in the form of sometimes debilitating allergies. People often ask me why I keep doing it knowing that I will periodically subject myself … Continue reading →
For me, the biggest downside of farming is that my health doesn’t always agree with it, mostly in the form of sometimes debilitating allergies. People often ask me why I keep doing it knowing that I will periodically subject myself to such suffering, and my most often answer is that it’s just a temporary state.
For example, for the past few days, I’ve been doing hay. It turns out that whoever coined the term “hay fever” wasn’t kidding, and as is the case nearly every year, right now I feel like I’m coming down with the flu. I know a lot of people would consider such a reaction to the task to be a deal breaker, but what I discovered a long time ago is knowing this will last, at most, a couple of days, gives me the willpower both to inflict it on myself and to endure it while it lasts.
What I’ve discovered as a result is that hay fever is kind of a metaphor for farming and that farming is a kind of metaphor for life. Sure, sometimes the process sucks, but the fact is the work needs done, somebody has to do it, and the results are usually worth even a little suffering to get there.
So it is and so it goes, pardon me while I wipe my nose.
A couple of times a year, I mow lots of grass. Not in the $40-billion-make-my-lawn-look-like-a-golf-course sort of way, but in the make food for animals sort of way. We mow and bale about 30 acres of grass hay every year … Continue reading →
A couple of times a year, I mow lots of grass. Not in the $40-billion-make-my-lawn-look-like-a-golf-course sort of way, but in the make food for animals sort of way.
We mow and bale about 30 acres of grass hay every year to hold our cattle and goats through the winter. There are a lot of things that make hay a chore, like the heat and dodging the weather, but despite my complaints, I actually look forward to it.
While so many people slave away in cubicles or at cash registers, I get to spend days outside in the sun, in near contact with the abundance of nature, using big machines. In the hours I spend mowing, raking, and baling, I find a unique opportunity to contemplate and formulate this path of life I travel.
And sure, things go wrong. Equipment breaks. The weather doesn’t cooperate. I see these things as opportunities to grow stronger. To develop fortitude. To solve problems.
For me, hay season is the peak of my year. That’s not to say that it’s downhill from there, but I look forward to this every year even as I dread it. Hay season encapsulates farming as a whole, and I love it all.
Have no fear, there really is a whole goat in the picture. The front half of Skittles (and Rocket behind her) happens to be inside the bale. Funny thing happens in winter – things freeze! So the goats eat the hay bale from the center to the edge, in hopes of avoiding the frozen outside layers. They end up with a hay donut, and happily stand inside the bale to get at the hay.
Yes, it will collapse at some point, but it’s not heavy enough to do any damage to the goats if they are standing as Skittles and Rocket are demonstrating. They’ll just paw through the remains, looking for something not frozen, and start baa-ing their displeasure at having to work for their food. Trust me, they are in no danger of starvation, if their potbellies are any indication.
We got a break in the “hot, chance of thunderstorms” weather, so while I was at farm markets, Denny mowed, raked and baled the rest of the first cutting of hay. We still have some smaller areas to mow and bale, but this is the “big-un” hay field. Every year we try to come up with a better way to mow it, and it seems like every year the weather is such that we can mow according to plan for the first round, then have to just lay it all down and get it baled.
Seven hours on a tractor is not a fun time (which is why we’re always trying to find another way to do this), but it’s all mowed and baled, and that’s good. We’ll let the bales cure for a few days, then load them up on a wagon and move them to the barn for storage. That will take awhile because we can only move them 7 bales at a time – 5 bales on the wagon, plus 1 bale on each of the tractors. We will be very happy when the barn is full of hay.
The grass in the areas we baled earlier is growing in wonderfully – I hope that means a good second cutting as well. We wish we could bale the back pasture, but since that’s the main pasture the cows hang out in, it’s pretty tore up (and there are lots of rocks), and would be too rough on the equipment. We’re working on ideas for to be able to bale it, though!
This certainly isn’t the easy way to do things, but we think it’s the better way. By mowing the pastures, it keeps most of the weeds to a minimum, takes off the grasses the cows “don’t like” (although they love those grasses as dry hay!), and since we usually don’t mow until the grass has gone to seed, we reseed the pastures for free. Winning all around.
After mowing the grass, letting it dry, and raking it into windrows, out comes the baler. There are round balers, like the one we have, and there are square balers – both kinds come in all sizes. We can actually make up to almost 5 foot tall round bales, but choose to make 3.5 foot round bales – they’re easier to move around and store. Everyone has a different set up – this is what works for us.
(A round baler like ours)
Basically, the baler is pulled behind the tractor and has tines that sweep the hay into the baler. It rolls up to make the bale, then when the sensor goes off to tell us that it’s large enough, we start the wrapping process. Two rolls of baling twine are on each side of the baler, then fed through to the inside of the baler, the wrapped around the hay, and cut off at the end of the process (it’s all mechanized – we just push a few buttons to start each process). When that part is done, another button opens the back of the baler and the bale is pushed out. Bale rolls to the ground, the back comes back into place and the process starts all over again.
And “just like that” we have winter grass for our animals. The last step is to get it into the barn where it will be out of the elements and ready to go come winter.
The pasture, with all of the tall grass gone, is now ready to start regrowing. We’ll let it rest for a while, then open it back up for the cows to graze. And because we let the grasses go to seed before we mow, we’ll hopefully have an even better pasture next year.
Not to be snarky, but hay starts like this – grass! It has to be pretty tall, or (like we discovered last year) it doesn’t want to hold together very well and will not make a good bale of hay.
Now the machinery enters the picture. We have a haybine (like a combine for corn/beans, but it cuts hay), a rake and a round baler. The haybine is different than a lawnmower in that it cuts the grass at the bottom of the stalk, then spits it out the back in a pile, instead of chopping the grass to shreds and spreading it all over.
The next picture is after we’ve let the grass dry out, then rake it into windrows. Turning it with the rake allows the bottom grass to dry better, and making windrows makes it easier for the baler to to its job. The piles aren’t even because the amount of grass isn’t even. We don’t notice that when mowing the yard, but it’s pretty apparent when raking hay into windrows.
At the end (and beginning) of the day, we can’t do what we do unless we have good grass. Cows, horses, goats, and chickens (and even the dogs and cats) all eat grass, and bad grass equals unhealthy animals.
After this past winter, and praying we had enough hay stored to feed all the critters that needed it, it’s a good feeling to see things greening up in the pastures. We still have hay available in the bale wagon and in the goat area, but they’ve been eating less of it per day.
We now turn our attention to management – how to move the animals around so they don’t over-graze the pasture they’re on at any one time. Later on, we’ll watch and wait for the right time to start mowing and baling hay. Then before we know it, cold weather will be back and we are back to where we just were.
Time isn’t a straight line on a farm – it’s a cycle. And it all comes back to how the grass is doing.
Patterns are everywhere in our lives. Our routines change over the course of a year as the seasons change, even if we don’t really notice those changes at the time.
Some patterns are quite visible, and some are more subtle – this picture looks head on to the center of a round bale. The pattern might not pop out at first, but the clock-wise curve of the bale-making process can be seen.
We set round bales up on end in the barn, and “unroll” them for the horses. There’s a definite right way to do that, to work with the pattern and unwind the hay from the bale. I didn’t realize that when we first went to making round bales, and couldn’t figure out why they were so hard to break apart. Once I saw the pattern (which way the bale had been rolled), I could more easily get the hay off the bale and where it needed to be. We’ve gotten better at the bale-making part of things, so when we find the right direction to do it, we can unwind the bale by hand.
Maybe that’s why some things in life are so hard – we’re trying to “unwind the bale” in the wrong direction?
I have to remember that not everyone deals with “farm lingo” on a daily basis, so this one is for my friend Nancy!
Here is our bale yard – a fenced off area where we can keep the round hay bales stored. We also fill our big barn with bales, but there are many more bales than barn area. Ideally we would have a 3 sided, roofed shelter to keep the bales from the worst of the weather, but the trees behind the bales are a good windbreak. The small pyramid of bales to the left of the red barn are straw bales, and everything else is hay.
When the cows are in the pasture where this area is, the gate is chained shut so they can’t get in and eat all the hay. We also have put the goats out here to keep the grass mowed, so we put up temporary fences around any bales to keep the goats away from them. This is the “winter grass” for all the animals, so it’s pretty important to keep it secured when there is real, green grass for them to eat!
What do pastured cattle eat during the winter? Hay! These bales are around 3 1/2 feet tall, and 6 of them will fit in our bale wagon. Depending on how cold/snowy it is during a given week, it will take our 30 cows & calves 3-5 days to eat all that…so we need a lot! […]
What do pastured cattle eat during the winter? Hay! These bales are around 3 1/2 feet tall, and 6 of them will fit in our bale wagon. Depending on how cold/snowy it is during a given week, it will take our 30 cows & calves 3-5 days to eat all that…so we need a lot! This is hay stored in our barn, and we also have outside storage for more bales. There is a “bale spear” attachment for our tractor that we spear the bale with, then move it to the wagon. The cows are always pretty excited to see the empty wagon leave the paddock and return full of bales – they usually don’t even wait until we’ve parked the wagon to stick their heads in and start munching.
This just shows that you *can* raise good beef on grass…corn isn’t necessary. We feed them bales, oats (which is more of a treat than anything), and we also have large mineral buckets out for them (no grass is perfect, and the minerals our grass lacks are important for healthy pregnancies and calves, so the mineral buckets are their “daily vitamins”).