One of the biggest highlight’s of a farmer’s season is when first cut of hay season starts. For East Tennessee that window of peak harvest starts right now.
I felt compelled to write a blog on this topic as it is such an interesting one. I cant think of another task on the farm that is so determined by weather other than seed planting. This mad dash to go through every step of the haying process within a window of no rain, all while we long for rain for the grass to grow, is a tad unnerving EVERY YEAR. It is a spectacle for the ages, truly.
There are seven steps in converting grass into storable hay.
- Mowing – Cuts grass when mature and drops grass into windrows
- Macerating – Crimps grass drying it faster so you can quickly move to next step
- Tedding – Spreads out the windrows to allow it to dry faster
- Raking – It takes 3-4 days for grass to dry – Raking puts grass back into windrows
- Baling – Machine picks up completely dried grass in windrows and makes bales
- Hauling – Bales need to be picked up in the field and moved to dry location
- Storing – Bales get stored undercover for winter feedstock
The timing of haying requires a window of three to five days to complete without any rain. These windows create an environment where everyone drops anything they are doing to go “haying”. You simply have to hay when the sunshines. Thus the cliche gotta make hay while the sun shines.
We get about 1400 bales a year. And, with last year’s drought, everyone is nervous this year about another drought. Droughts of course impact the quality of grass later in the cutting season. So, everyone is frantically getting hay in this week and next as rain is forecast to be intermittant.
My daughter, her boyfriend and I did 100 bales yesterday, up our hay elevator, to the second floor of our livestock barn. I had picked the bales up the previous day directly from the hay field while it was being baled. Today, with trailer empty I am back in the fields with the trailer at 8am to get 100 more bales, to unload them, and be back in the field all before what is projected to be rain this afternoon.
Haying time is really a special time for farmers. While it is frantic every year, it reminds us that we are merely human and that weather trumps all human interventions. It is a stark reminder of our strengths and our limitations. This awareness is humbling and empowering all at the same time. Then, once the hay is in the barn to feed our livestock for a whole winter until the following spring, there is such a sense of self sufficiency and reward, there is truly nothing like it. Haying is an emotional roller coaster that makes us better humans. It is that ritualistic on a farm and thus very sacred.
Every farmer will tell you haying stories. It is a family task that engages the grandparents, parents, kids, grandkids and all their friends. It is like the great barn raisings of old or quilting bees. It is a time when everyone comes together. It is a special time.
So, next time when you pass a hay field and you see the ol’feller on the tractor or see trucks and wagons in the field, or you see hay loads on the road trying to outrun the rain — well, I hope you know you are witnessing a piece of a process that is special. And, that hay in some way will feed you by way of the meat you eat at home or at a restaurant.
God Bless! And hug a farmer.
~ L. Davis