Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Horses, Hay and Hummingbirds...Oh, MY!

’m sorry now that I didn’t try out my new video camera while we were haying this week. It's hard to describe the happy chaos, the hay-stacking parties reliant on beer muscles.  The seed heads four feet high that hid the front of the tractor and the haybine (and the coyote-decimated wildlife I had to clean up...thanks, Dawg!) were truly a sight to behold.  But I can't walk and talk let alone tractor and video.  

However, the results are in, and they are fantabulous!  This hay thing has been an obsession, a long-term project that I approached with a vengeance because I had neighboring farmers poking fun at my off-center (according to conventional wisdom) decisions.  I had to prove them wrong.  So far, so good.
Fantabulous hay

For those (three) of you who read my first book, It's a Horse's Life!, the fact that I'm a total novice to the farming thing isn't news.  To those who know me personally, my penchant for launching a vendetta isn't news either, nor is my habit of researching everything....every single thing.  I apologize for that, but there's that tiny flavor of OCD working to spice up my mental stew.  The fact that I've met with some success is pretty surprising even to me, however, as being an Aquarian and a functioning lunatic, the threads my mind connects aren't  always visible to anyone but me and often make less sense than a Glenn Beck diatribe.  

This little eight-acre hay field has been a serious issue over the years.  It was a corn field when I bought the place, and it was a weed field for two years after that.  Hay, purchased in quantity, is expensive stuff, so being self-sufficient was a priority.  Now, fourteen years post-launch, it's a hayfield producing weed-free orchard grass, brome, and, in really good, wet years like this one,  timothy (with a hint of clover to titillate the palate) that looks like the photo above.  In fact it is the photo above. 

The trick (in my humble opinion) is 1) to spread pelletized garden lime in the fall (the slow release keeps working for months and it's suitably ridiculously expensive compared to bulk pulverized lime), 2) to fertilize with high-nitrogen (or all nitrogen) fertilizer in March as soon as the ground is free of snow, even if it's still a little icy and even the deer are looking askance at your fleece-covered butt, and 3) cut the hay early the first year of this regimen to prevent any weeds that didn't get choked out by the popping grass from setting seeds.  It took two years for this system to make the field awesome.  That's no time at all in the grand scheme of farm things.  Count on longer if you're starting from a base of total weed-dom and remember you reap what you sow, so sow something like grass if you want to reap grass hay.
Learning curve being crested:  Tedding, SUCCESS!

One thing I've learned about "gentleman" farming is that waiting is pretty much all of it.  You're waiting for the rain.  You're waiting for the rain to stop.  You're waiting for the help to show up to stack the hay, for the mechanic to change the oil in the tractor, for some parts person to order the belt for the tedder, for time to look up words like "tedder" and "haybine", for the guys on the tractor-and-hay forum to stop making fun of you and arguing about your choice of baler or twine or baseball cap, and for sundown when you can legitimately call it a day (because your tractor's headlights stopped working a month ago) and hope that someone made dinner (or that you still have the pizza delivery guy on speed dial).

"Hey, can I drive?"
The horses, meanwhile, are of very little help in this process.  They do seem to enjoy an endless fascination with the equipment.  Okay...maybe "endless" is a stretch, but they're standing around watching while you put serious sweat equity into this enterprise.  Fortunately, my horses are trained to eat what they're given.  Picky horses wouldn't last long here.  I suspect they talk amongst themselves, because I've yet to have a horse on board, including outsiders that were only here briefly, who would turn tail on even the dollar-a-bale mulch hay that was all we could get during a drought year.  And they all patiently picked through the bales that had tumbleweeds in the middle the first year after we switched the field to hay.  And oak leaves after a late second cut.  And dog toys courtesy of the neighbor's pooch.  They do draw the line at anything that used to ambulate and is now deceased.

Fantabulous Hay Earning the Pinky Stamp of Approval

The whole farming process really came together in its vast scope of large (horses) and small (hay seeds in my nose) aspects when Cliff announced last night that the hummingbirds were complaining (they really do get testy) because their feeders were full of ants.  Suddenly I had an overwhelming sense of being Caretaker to the Masses.  The cats stared at me wondering if I was planning on feeding them again today; the cockatoo and cockatiels loudly placed their orders, and I'm sure if I had a dog, it would have been shoving its food bowl around the floor.  Add a few small children, and the microcosm is complete.

And chickens!  Let's not forget the chickens.
So, to all of you who are doing the work of farming--the real work of 70,000 bales a season and hundreds of acres of foodstuffs to feed a nation, my sweaty baseball cap is humbly doffed!  I'm on a thirty-day no-whining regimen because I can't begin to do what you do and live to tell the tale.

Thanks, and have a good harvest! 
Tractor Guy and Tractor Baby, hard at work

No comments: