Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Race to Hay

We have had an unbelievable amount of rain here in western Massachusetts. It is making Mark's farming difficult. He listens to the weather radio a few times a day trying to determine if there is a stretch of weather when he can cut hay. Once he decides, it is a race to get it all done.

This is how it goes:
1. He cuts the hay with his mowing machine.
2. He tetters the hay - he uses a machine called a "tetter" that fluffs the mown hay up in the air and then it all falls down on the field with air pockets so that it dries quickly.
3. He uses a rake to rake it into windrows - these are thin rows - about 2 feet wide.
4. He drives the baler over the windrows and the baler picks up all the hay and forms it into a extremely large bale weighing about 800 lbs.

He moves the dry hay undercover into our greenhouse barn to feed the sheep next winter.

He also cuts hay and bales it wet. This is more convenient because he doesn't need as long a stretch of weather to finish it. If he is putting up wet hay it is called haylage. He does steps 1, 3, and 4 like above. The last step is to wrap each bale in white agriculture plastic. It then pickles inside the bale and preserves itself - similar to canning and pickling. The goal is to not let in any air so that the haylage will be fresh for the sheep to eat next winter. This hay can be stored outside until it is needed. Once in a while bears claw or crows peck through the plastic and the bale is spoiled. Julia calls these "big marshmallows." The goal is to have enough bales to last us through the winter so we don't have to buy hay for the sheep.

In the photo below, you can see the first cutting's unwrapped and wrapped bales. Mark hays all his fields three to four times a summer beginning in early May and sometimes cutting as late as September.

Farming is a real challenge. It is so different than it used to be even twenty years ago. When I first starting coming to Sunbrite Farm, David and Mark still made square bales. I used to help pick them up and stack them on the haywagon. It was always a struggle to find enough people to pick up the bales. Eventually, Mark and David moved to the large round bale system. Although it takes more financial outlay for the equipment, they feel it is worthwhile because they can do it themselves and not have to rely on finding extra help.

It's a far stretch from these days. I found this picture at a flea market and it was a perfect gift for Mark's birthday a few years ago.


Chef Messy said...

My husband worked on his father's dairy farm up until last August, and we had the same issues of hurrying to cut and bale before it would rain! I never thought I'd say this, but I miss farming, in some ways.

Wendi said...

We call the round bales "meadow muffins". I want a farm!

patty bolgiano said...

When my hubby and I started looking for a house outside the city one of the houses was directly across from a hay field. As we waited in the hot maryland sun, we saw the farmer baling the hay. My hubby remarked that we would see this every year that we were here. Alas as beautiful as the house was, there were tremendous problems so we didn't buy it. We eventually ended up where his grandfather/father and his family use to ride their horses in the fields. Their field eventually became a house that we moved in. This is farming, horse and cattle country and everyday I fall a little more in love with where I live. (remember I was the girl from the city!)

Patty in Baltimore
(You must be getting the storms we had earlier this week)