Hay season is upon us. We are just finishing up our first cut for winter hay storage and feed. Late summer/early fall will bring us into our second cut, which we feed at pasture. The old adage reads, “Make hay when the sun is shining.” In terms of haymaking, truer words were not spoken. A quality hay harvest requires good weather. Sunshine, drying winds, and properly timed cutting all lead to maximizing the quality of mixed hay. As you’ll notice in the above photo, we make square bales and stack them on a hay wagon. It’s hard work, but with the best view in Northern N.B. as the back drop of our hay acreage, how can one complain?
Our hay fields are a mixture of (1) perennial grasses like timothy, brome grass, orchard grass, (2) legumes like white and red clover, and (3) fescue. Our hay fields have not been turned in decades so there is some vetch and other weeds in our hay, which the cattle will eat around or, if it smells good, chew it up and add it to the cud. Smell, more than taste or appearance, is often the determining factor for a cow when it comes to eating forage. MacCurdy Farm cattle are notoriously picky eaters. On occasion we’ve purchased hay during shortage that no amount of molasses or shredding would make palatable. But, I digress. Our hay, from our acreage and rentals in the community, has served our cattle well over the years but next year, if our plans come to fruition, we’ll have some new hay sewn in the community to hopefully improve the digestible crude protein content in our hay. Higher protein equals faster daily pound gains in our animals, which means a greater return when they go to table.
Making hay involves multiple steps:
- Cut the hay. We cut our hay when the conditions are right and the weather forecast gives us a window to harvest.
- After several hours of drying time, or the following day depending on the time of the cut, we ted (spread newly cut hay) the hay with the tedder. This exposes more of the surface area of the grass and legume to the sunshine and breezes.
- Rake the hay. The rake implement, which is wheel driven, forms a windrow funnel that allows the wind to dry the hay before baling.
- Bale the hay.
- Collect the hay with the tractor and wagon and bring it back to the hay barn for storage.
I’ve learned a great deal this summer, having dedicated all of my time to farming in place of other extra-curricular activities, about the intricacies of farming. Making hay is largely dependant on fine tuned machinery. This summer, we had some issues with our haybine aka. cutter/mower that forced us to replace a busted hydraulic hose and broken hub. Thankfully, a few phone calls and the parts were at the farm within a few days, so we didn’t lose any time making hay. Dad is very mechanically inclined and i’m learning, more from watching than doing, about machinery maintenance and how to problem solve in a pinch. That being said, it seems as though my father’s generation has difficulty letting go of the reigns. They carry an attitude of only they can do it right, so you’re stuck in the shadows learning visually. Most people learn across multi-modalities so I’ve joked with my father that if I were ever to apply for a job on a farm elsewhere and share my experiences with respect to my abilities operating and maintaining machinery, i’d have to say, “I watched my daddy do it.” That comment, in and of itself, would terminate the interview. Job opportunity gone. However, at the age of 32, I can say I’ve learned a fair amount about farming, and even though I did not attend agricultural college (I chose education in place of my acceptance to study animal science at NSAC), my experiences on the farm have enriched my knowledge of the land, animals, and machinery.
The summer of 2014 was not one of drudgery and digging deep into energy reserves and spiritual strength. This year, I hired two young lads to help me wield hay bales in the hay field along with help from family members. Good help is hard to find but we lucked out this year in finding helpers that could keep up with the MacCurdy work ethic and stamina in the hay field. We don’t brag about much, but our bale throwing prowess and ability to get the job done, even under the moon light, is something we take great pride in doing. My father did it for years with his mother driving tractor while he piled. I did it over the last couple summers jumping in and out of the tractor, alone, during days where the bales seemed like they’d never end. I’d be exhausted, wiped with sweat dripping off my brow and a sluggish posture, and my father would say, “Don’t rely on your body to get things done, the body can only go so far, but trust your spirit to help you finish.” Amazingly, it worked. Believing that you can accomplish something at all costs, helps you to forget about the pain, allowing you to put your body on autopilot and complete the task at hand. All the while, forging your hands into grippers, blasting your forearms into swollen bulbs, and pumping your lungs into air purifiers. On one occasion this summer, one of our farm hands, sore from making hay the day earlier and feeling beat said, “I need to build up my stamina.” I replied, “Making hay is all about pace. It’s like running a race. You can’t win a marathon by sprinting from start to finish.” The hay field, like life, has many lessons to be learned.
Over the years, I’ve seen many people grip hay bales the wrong way. Before heading out to the field with our hired hands this summer, I taught them how to grip a hay bale, pile a hay bale, throw a hay bale, and treat a hay bale. Learning how to properly handle a hay bale is the key to an injury-free day of work. Throwing a hay bale is very technical and it is my opinion that more people should incorporate functional strength tasks like splitting wood, making hay, logging, and lobster fishing into their life experiences. Forget about cross fit and think about farm fit/manual labor fit. People will absolutely exhaust and gas themselves in a gym but never develop functional strength. So, when the day comes that something heavy has to be lifted, pushed, or pulled, they find that their bench press doesn’t do squat…pun intended. Back to hay bale throwing 101. When you grab the twines of a hay bale, your hands should be just outside of shoulder width apart with the hand on the side that the bale will be thrown on the twine closer to the body. The other hand positions on the outside twine away from the body. As in baseball, you load your weight on your back leg, bringing the bale in a slight twisting position to the back foot. Spot the target for the bale, explode off of your back foot in the direction of the target. Reach up with the bale, releasing the back hand and then front hand in close proximity of time, to the sound of the twine plucking off of the hand closest to the target. The whole time you’re stomach muscles are tightened to counteract and stress on the back. In a nutshell, a great core exercise. I spent some time teaching other way to grab and pile bales because every tip and method that facilitates speed of harvesting gets more hay in the barn. Some of you may chuckle to yourselves about a proper way of making hay, given that mechanization and invention has greatly reduced the amount of times a hay bale is touched before it finds storage, but until we purchase the coveted thrower for our baler and a wagon to go with it, we’ll continue to pick bales up and put them down, over and over again.
Finally, hay making is one of my favorite times of the year. A full barn of hay means another year that our cow calf operation survives and thrives in Point La Nim, NB. I look forward to the laughs we share in the field, the completion of each load of hay that is unloaded on the thrasher floor, and the memories that we form as a family. A Shamwow and a bottle of Mr. Clean couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face as I watched my niece and son run through the field to kick down the bales that were standing on end. My sister, brother, and I did the same thing when we were youngsters. Some bales don’t fall flat on their bottoms, and stand on edge, which would cause us, like wolves with the scent of blood, to sprint as fast as we could to knock down as many as we could in the hay field. We didn’t need video games to have fun. Our feet carried us to it. As always we’d stop for supper, made by the family matriarch and resident farm cat expert, Grammy MacCurdy. A quick recharge for the body, inspection of the animals basic needs, and then back at it until the baler quit or the sun set, which ever came first.
Making hay, it’s in our nature!