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Haymaking -July 09

Posted 7/15/2009 8:15am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

The weather this week is perfect for making hay.  There is not a farmer in our stretch of valley who is not cutting, raking, bailing, or putting away hay this week, except us.  We do not make our own hay although we do hope to in the future.  We suspect our neighbors think we are a little nuts for rotating our animals over pastures, which by this time are puntucated with tufts of tough and mature grass.   Knocking that grass back at the right time and bailing it up would give us both hay for the winter and allow for new growth throughout the stand.  So why not make hay?  Well here is our dilemma.  If we make hay and then are hit with a couple weeks of little rain, we might just have to turn right around and feed that hay during the summer anyway, so why not just let the cows and sheep do the harvesting.  In the shade of the mature tufts of grass, there is a lot of young new growth that in the glare of the hot sun would not grow as quickly.   Also, our haying equipment tends to break down and cause more stress than we already have -- who needs that?  We could pay someone to make hay, but why not just buy their hay and ensure that there is grass available for our animals to eat.  The sheep actually show a preference for eating off the mature seed-heads on the grasses and we've noticed since we stopped making hay, our pastures seem to come in a lot thicker in the spring.  I wonder if there is a connection -- do sheep digest those seeds or pass them?  I've not checked.   

Anyway, even though we are not making hay while the world around us is focused on it, we are quite involved with the process.  Since Roy returned from Africa to Juniata County at age 12, he has been in great demand for ranking, or stacking, hay.   It is a hot, dusty, back-breaking job, but there is also something satisfying about creating order in one's barn out of the chaos of a jumbled hay wagon and there are few aromas better than fresh cut and bailed hay.   Ranking hay with Charles, Tammy, and Stephanie, our dairy-farming neighbors, has become a summer ritual for Roy.  His strong back and banter are valued and in exchange he uses their manure spreader.  Some evenings the girls and I go along and they play in the stacked hay or with the goopy-eyed kittens that are inevidabley in the barn somewhere, and occassionally I help put the bails on the elevator too.  (But I must be honest, they never ask for my help -- it is Roy they want.  He is better at it and for so many years it was impossible for both of us to help.  I'm just waiting for the day we can send our girls down for a good workout!) The hay we buy from another neighbor is being delivered this week in big round bales.  They've become the standard for many farmers, and while they smell good too, they just aren't as satisfying to me as a bale I can acually pick up with my own two arms.  We hope that by the time the rain comes this weekend, both our barn and Charlie's will have the sweet aroma of new hay and we will be well on our way to being prepared for winter