Hay there!

By: 
Deb Hill
News-Argus Managing Editor

This time of year our lives revolve around hay. The presence of hay. The absence of hay. The size of hay bales and the movement of hay. Hay, hay, hay. 

While critical if you raise livestock of the grazing variety, I find my capacity to be fascinated by hay conversations is limited. At the moment, I am hayed out.

Understand, we’ve been having this hay conversation since about the middle of May. Back then, it was all about the amount of hay left from last year versus how the pastures were coming along. 

My husband produced complex equations showing the average amount of hay fed per week, the number of weeks before the pastures could supply most of the nutritional requirements for our herd of alpacas and the rate at which hay supplies would be used up.

Then we got that late May giant snowfall, blanketing the pastures with two feet of the cold, white, non-food substance. My husband, like the Garmin GPS lady, began recalculating. 

Coming up with an answer for how long hay supplies will last requires knowing when the weather will turn nice, how much each alpaca will need to eat (which depends on the temperature outside), and when the pasture grasses will decide to put on a growth spurt.

Thanks to obsessively purchasing extra hay last year, we did not run out when the late spring storm hit. But it did make us worry.

The weather improved, the alpacas were switched off hay onto pasture, and the hay conversation morphed from last year’s hay to this year’s hay.

Because we run a small farm populated with animals that don’t require much in the way of feed, we like to use the small “square” bales of hay, rather than the giant round ones. Unfortunately, many hay growers will only put the hay up in big round bales. 

Luckily we have a great neighbor who is willing to bale small squares. Every year we put in our order. But this year when he started baling, it became apparent he wouldn’t have enough hay to fill our order.

Now the hunt was on for another hay grower with small bales. We found one, albeit somewhat farther afield. 

But at least we could get the hay in.

Get the hay in. That simple phrase glosses over a whole lot of annoyance. Let’s parse it. 

Get = hook up the flat bed trailer to the truck and drive to the hay field over rutted, washboard-y dirt roads. Upon arrival, maneuver truck and trailer through the not-large-enough fence gate and bump across the field to a bale. Get out. Pick up hay bale. Heft onto trailer. Get back in truck. Drive to next bale. Get out. Heft bale. Continue until trailer is appropriately overloaded. Go home. Unload into hay storage area. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And so on.

The hay = a rectangle of semi-dried grasses weighing between 60 and 70 pounds. The grasses are carefully arranged so the scratchiest parts are sticking out, ready to inflict wounds on anyone who dares to handle them. 

Wounds range from tiny pinpricks to visible scratches, not to mention rashes from the grass seeds and pollen that work their way inside all clothing. 

The hay appears to be held together with orange baling “twine,” although anyone attempting to use that twine to lift the bale will quickly discover it’s often just there as decoration. Try to use it and the hay slides right out, leaving a misshapen bale that will not stack properly.

In = creating a stack of hay in a sheltered location. This is the equivalent of building a house of cards with each 60-pound “card” needing to be dead-lifted off the trailer and muscled into position. The first row isn’t so bad, but it gets progressively more challenging from there, as one must clamber up a bale “staircase” to get to the top. Bales are oriented first one way, then 90 degrees the other, in order to stabilize the growing pile. Best candidates for this job possess a degree in engineering and a love of weight lifting.

With the hay baled, picked up and stacked, you’d think we’d be finished with hay for the year.

But you’d be wrong. Just last night my husband pulled out his calculator out and began re-estimating the amount of hay we have versus the amount we will need to feed.

If anyone would like to chat about something other than hay, give me a call.

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