Every year we're given permission by the absentee landowner to hay the 25-acre field kitty-corner across from our property. We contracted with a local farmer to mow, swath, bale, and deliver the grass hay.
On August 2, Alan (the farmer) began mowing.
Around and around he went, cutting the grass into neat trails behind him.
Then the hay has to lie on the ground for a few days to cure and dry. You can't bale wet (green) hay or it will rot... or worse, spontaneously combust months later. Sometimes the curing process can be nail-biting, especially if rain is predicted. Fortunately we had a dry stretch, so the grass cured just fine.
On Wednesday Alan came back and swathed the hay into high windrows. A windrow is simply several lines of hay combined together into a bigger pile. This process serves two purposes: it fluffs the hay and allows it to dry some more; and it brings all the hay into one larger line, which is easier for the baler to do its job.
I think windrows are beautiful, the epitome of a farming summer and the promise of winter feed for our livestock.
Gathering up swathes into windrows requires a fairly complicated rake system.
Yesterday Alan and his father came and baled the hay. This required two men because it was two separate jobs: baling, and loading.
Here's the baler (from a distance).
While his dad baled, Alan loaded.
Meanwhile we had an all-hands-on-deck work party to clean out the barn in anticipation of the first delivery of bales.
Last year we baled the hay on exactly the same date, but then we had to let it sit in the field (praying for no rain) for several weeks until our barn was built.
But this year we're having the hay delivered, whoo-hoo! No eleven-hour days hauling hundreds of hay bales! (See that, cow? This hay's for you.)
The hay hauler has a hydraulic lift that tips the bales over. It holds 42 bales at a time.
Now it was time to haul. We hired two neighbor boys to help. At first we just lifted the bales by the twine to stack it, but quickly realized (a) we would wear ourselves out long before we could stack 600 bales; and (b) the younger kids had a hard time lifting 55-60 lbs over and over and over.
So we resorted to sleds, wheelbarrows, hand trucks, and anything else we had on hand. Lots of muscle, too.
Everyone had a chance to rest between deliveries.
Tools of the trade: gloves, hats, lots of lemonade...
Gradually the stack grew, 42 bales at a time.
Finally the stack got so tall we could no longer chain-gang bales up to the top. So Don used a friend's tractor to lift three bales at a time to the top of the stacks.
We developed a nice rhythm. I loaded three bales into the bucket, Don lifted the bales to the top, and the kids swarmed like monkeys to unload and pack the bales tightly while I loaded another three bales into the bucket. Repeat. Repeat.
By the time the farmer called it quits for the night, we'd stacked ten loads or 420 bales. We were uniformly filthy, sweaty, and full of hay prickles.
This morning we only had three loads left, and everyone was fresher.
Over the noise of the tractor I heard the kids all singing something, and when I asked what they were singing, they told me "all the nerdy songs" they could remember. Hey, whatever it takes to get the job done.
Older Daughter gives Don the thumbs up that it's safe to pull away from the stack.
At one point I lifted a bale and it literally exploded in my hands (broken twine), sending hay cascading all over. Such is life.
Here a snake got caught in the baler and cut in half. Ouch.
That was a strange sight, but not nearly as strange as the live snake we found, perfectly fine except for the tip of its tale which was caught under the tight twine. We carefully cut the twine and Older Daughter released the snake into the garden (didn't get pix, which I regret).
Here's the crew, hot and grungy and sweaty, but satisfied from a job well done. We have fifteen tons of hay in the barn... not enough to feed the livestock over the winter, but a start.
Last April, the Labor Department tried to ban kids from working on family farms. Only a federal bureaucrat could come up with legislation that stupid. Farm labor trains kids toward a respect for the land, an understanding of the cycle of harvest, a strong work ethic, and keeps them fit in mind and body.
Fortunately the legislation was scrapped under pressure, though it did cause Younger Daughter to quip, "Are you sure what we're doing is legal?"
The kids were all pleased to earn some money. And believe me, they worked for every dime of it... just as everyone should.