Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

When hay fever isn't about sneezing

For farmers and ranchers across the country, this is the season for gathering and stacking hay (also reaching for antihistamine and muscle rub). When we first bought this farm, with good grass pastures, one of our first needs was haying equipment. Those were the years of going to farm auctions. We needed cutter, rake and baler. We could have had swather and automatic loader for the bales, but we were in this as economically as possible and our equipment showed it. Since we bought it mostly nearly 30 years ago and it was old then, it would probably qualify for being antiques now-- like us.

My husband had worked on hay fields when he was in high school; so he knew how to do the work; but even with that, it's different when you are responsible for it all and have to look to the sky for guessing if you have enough time to cut a field, get the hay cured and baled before the next rainstorm.

If hay is baled wet, it will be ruined by either mold which can cause cows to abort if they eat it at the wrong time or more damaging yet, heat building up to the extent of a fire that can cost a barn.

One rainstorm, if it isn't too heavy and doesn't last too long will not kill you, longer wet spells will. One year, to our great upset, we lost a whole field of bales. If you think it's hard work stacking them when it's to go into a barn, it's a whole lot more when you have to get them off the field and they are garbage.

We now have too many animals to get hay from these fields; so purchase it elsewhere. That's where the hay fever comes in. A lot of hay is contracted for before it's cut. Other countries buy hay as well as bigger growers. So for the little guy, it's calling who you got it from last year,watching for handmade signs alongside the road, and checking out the quality of their bales to see if the cows will like it. Most hay we purchase today comes in thousand pound bales which are either round or rectangular. It's a big business and the equipment a lot more complex than back when it was all about twine, 80 lb bales, having a good trailer, and stacking in a barn.

Having hay crews here was fun back when we were cutting a lot of hay. It was usually our own teen-agers as well as local boys. Sometimes some of our daughter's town guy pals would come out to earn some extra money. That could be funny as they found themselves unable to handle the big bales she was lifting.

Secret: hay handling is about leverage, not just muscle. It's using legs as well as arms-- with one exception-- a 17 year old boy in the full glory of his youth, who can throw the bales 4 rows high.

One hot summer, while making lunch for a hay crew with quite a few kids working here, I was doing a lot of food prep and in particular jugs of lemonade and ended up not rinsing one out thoroughly from the soap. You can only imagine the shock and yelps of dismay from those boys as they spit out the drink. It wasn't quite foaming but almost. When I run across one of those guys now in their late 30s or early 40s, if the conversation turns to haying, they still remind me of that.

These photos are from 2000. The crew that year was just me, our Astro at the time (which thought it was a farm vehicle because it was used as one), and the guy the neighbors call the boss. I don't call him, that, but I do admit he orders me around as soon as we are out doing a farm job.


Dick said...

I remember doing that as a kid in both north Idaho & south of Spokane in the Palouse area. It was hard work but you really felt good when finished. Maybe I need to do that again to get rid of some of the excess weight I am carrying on my body! The first thing I ever drove was a tractor in Idaho on the ranch.

Mary Lou said...

I helped out on my girl friends farm when I was in high school. I remember being able to throw those bales up on the flat bed, where the boys would then hoist it up even higher. I can still feel the scratches from the hay on my arms and legs and tummy. No body told me to wear long clothes during the hottest part of the summer!! duh.

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

We lived on an acre of land, but growing berries was the predominant crop. I have loved driving through the midwest and San Joaquin valleys and seeing the hay bales--now mostly round, it seems. We did go on faux hay rides, but the hay was real because I grew up in horse ranch country.

Parapluie said...

Thanks for reminding me how small time farming use to be about bring together community.

goldenlucyd said...

I got a big kick out of this post. I'm a city girl who up until 4 years ago had never seen a hay bale. When I moved to CO to live with my family I learned fast. My daughter-in-law Carole has horses and for the first 3 years I was here they were pastured in the canyon below our house.

I still don't know anything about bales except I was always amazed that a 60 year old woman could load, unload and stack truckoads of 80 pound bales all by herself.

I was horried when I first saw Carole doing it but she assured me it wasn't dangerous. She liked doing it and never complained of being sore. When she said she didn't really use he arms that much I didn't believe her but after reading your post I have a much better idea about everything.
Well done, Rain.

Sandy said...

LOL, had to laugh about the soapy drink! Your story brings back so many memories of life on the farm. Haying was, of course, a big part of that life. We had equipment to help us for most it but still hautled by hand up till the last 7 years and yes, their are stories about many meals, drinks...just about anything that could be told about farm life in general but in particular when neighbors, friends and family were there to help.

Sandy said...

and if I could re write that I would *grin* getting off a treadmill on a very hot day and typing shortly after equals many many typos ;) thanks again for sharing.