While the Sun Shines

“You have to make hay while the sun shines,” is not only just a rural saying, it’s the truth! And making hay is critical work, as much of our livestock depends on it as a primary food source all winter long.

I actually had a lady ask me once, “If your animals are grass-fed, what do they eat in the winter?”

“Hay, of course,” I offered.

“But then it’s not grass-fed anymore!” she retorted, indignant.

I blinked a couple of times, looking across the farmer’s market table. “Em, well, hay is dried grass, like when you take dried food camping.”

Obviously, she hadn’t spent summers helping make hay.

The drying part is especially important as hay that is baled still damp (either because it did not dry properly or it was rained upon or the dew came in before baling) will begin to decompose within the anaerobic environment of the packed bale. This causes the bale to heat up considerably. We’ve torn apart wet bales just hours after being packed and watched them steam like a roast coming out of the oven. Sometimes it can get so bad that the heated hay will self-combust, burning down the whole barn or hay shed. No! I don’t ever want to report on that experience! It’s gotta be dry—no way around that.

The best drying days have both sun and wind, so when the conditions are right for a several-day stretch, and the hayfields are ready for cutting, there’s no time to lollygag around. If it’s been a particularly rainy summer or early autumn, finding that dry stretch can be a real challenge and a gamble.

One of my tasks on the farm is to coordinate deliveries. That can be a moving target when you’re trying to work around a haying schedule, with it’s ever-shifting dates as weather patterns change. After the morning rains cleared out on Monday, the Groeschls arrived with their entourage of spotless gear to begin cutting. We used to do it all with put-put equipment from the 1950’s that spent half of its time breaking down, but some jobs are just better delegated to those who have the right equipment. Andy and Jeff went zooming through the fields, and I packed produce like crazy to push deliveries earlier in the week to Grand Marais and Ashland for prospective haying on Wednesday.

As the day grew closer, rains were predicted overnight on Wednesday into Thursday, so the hay had to come off the ground, even though Tuesday had been overcast. Wednesday morning, however, shone bright with a blustery wind—perfect drying conditions. In came a parade of hay wagons to add to our own supply, baler, accumulator, and grapples. This equipment relieved us from having to hand-stack each bale onto the wagons, allowing us to instead focus on stacking the bales in the barn before nightfall.

The loads of bales kept coming, filling the barn and every available space in sheds and other outbuildings. While I held down Farmstead Creamery, Kara, Mom, and Steve emptied out any available space and laid down pallets and drop cloths for stacking hay. Tractors, wheel barrows, and the manure spreader stood evicted out in the yard, all in the name of saving the hay crop. At nightfall, we pulled four wagons into the horse pen in the Red Barn and covered two more in the barnyard with tarps for stacking in the morning.

And, indeed, the rains did come and dripped through the rest of Thursday. So, we had just made the hay in time while the sun shone—all 1860 square bales of it! That is more than 74,000 lbs. of hay. It took us two more days to finish stacking it away in the mow and sheds, creatively boarding off one stack so the horse and donkeys couldn’t feast themselves silly. The sheep will certainly eat well this winter!

With blisters on our hands and sore backs and shoulders, we toasted a successful September 2nd crop hay harvest. In a way, it felt like we were our own version of squirrels, stocking away food in every available nook and crevice.

Do you have haymaking memories? How are you stocking up for wintertime? I know that today I’ll be out harvesting before the predicted frosts settle in. Autumn has surely arrived! See you down on the farm sometime.