This year, on a cloudy day in the middle of June, we loaded 21 tons of hay into the second storey hayloft of our barn. There were eight of us to start and six at the finish, although Greg and I combined were worth one teenager by the end of the day, so make that five. Haying is a young man’s sport and I have started to wonder what we will do when our boys graduate high school. They aren’t exactly our boys, but they are the kids who have shown up for the past three summers to toss bale after bale onto the trailer, onto the hay elevator, and at each other as they stack our hayloft full to the rafters. To be fair to our daughters, this was the first summer they were justifiably absent (school and a job).
The day started around 11 a.m., which I am sure was just fine with these kids, who had probably stayed up way too late the night before. It was early in the summer break and these were teenage boys in the prime of life, outdoor kids with plenty of chores during the day, and plenty of energy left over for the nights. There was Zeb, a handsome young man with a lady-killer quick smile and an aptitude for directing the others. There was Russell, a friendly kid who spent time before and after school working on the family farm, in addition to helping out the locals when haying season started. There was Trevor, a brawny red head whose mother works at the general store; and Dustin, who was maybe related to Zeb, or to Trevor, or maybe they were all related in one sense or another because they had the surnames of the old logging families from the area. There was Tyler, the only ‘city’ kid, who asked how heavy the bales were going to be, before he took the job (50+ lbs.); and, there was John, the youngest and quietest in the crew, our neighbor’s son, who had grown into a bean pole at 6 ‘ and looked older than his 14 years.
I didn’t call an 11 a.m. start to humor these guys, however. We need to wait for the sun to dry the dew off the bales from the previous night. You don’t want to stack a barn full of wet hay or you run the risk of a hay fire and burning down the barn. The wet hay breaks down and causes a chemical reaction, producing lots of heat that will eventually ignite. When you hear of hay fires, this is often the cause. There are only two solutions I have heard about. If you have loaded your hay in with too much moisture, you spend the entire summer stacking and restacking it until it is dry. I can’t imagine the labor involved in this! If you have already determined your hay is too wet, the other option is to spead lots of rock salt over each row as you stack it to absorb the extra moisture. And, yes, we had to use rock salt last summer.
The big challenge haying in the Coast Range of Oregon is to know when is the right time to cut and bale: when it won’t rain; when the hay is at its prime before the shafts start to shatter; when the farmer is free to cut our hay after he has taken care of his own. This year we got it right. On top of that, the sun didn’t feel as hot as other summers and a cloud cover came over the valley in the afternoon to keep us from overheating. Usually it seems we pick the hottest day of the summer to pull the hay out of our field, so we counted ourselves lucky the hay only scratched our arms and didn’t stick to the sweat, which has the effect of making you really itchy.
The first year, I think we loaded about eight tons of hay. Last year we were up to eighteen. This year we blasted past twenty one … which is a lot of hay for 12 acres…about 850 bales in all! I guess 850 bales doesn’t sound like all that much compared to some of our farming neighbors who bring in hundreds of tons, but it is far more than we can use and it’s, honestly, a pain in the ass to get out of the field and loaded into the barn. Last year we bought the hay elevator to carry the bales one by one up to the second storey opening of the hayloft; this year we bought the heavy-weight trailer to handle 100 bales at a time, from the field to the barn.
The system, as we have devised it, works like this. I drive the truck in low 4-wheel drive, which keeps it at a steady pace, and Greg and the guys walk along behind throwing bales on the trailer. One or two of the boys take to stacking the hay higher and higher until the guys on the ground are tossing 50 lb. bales up over their heads and trying to knock the stackers off the top. I think we might have actually made it to six bales high this summer. It always seems to be a challenge as to who can stack the highest, tightest load so I don’t tip half of it off driving back to the barn. Oh, yeah, and someone always insists on sitting on top of the stack for the ride.
Once back at the barn, Greg and I unload the trailer onto the hay elevator while several of the boys stand in the large doorway of the second floor loft and grab the bales to either throw or carry over to the crew responsible for making clean, neat stacks up to the rooftop. I have a photo of the barn piled high but it really doesn’t do justice to how much hay is stacked or what 21 tons looks like. It’s the stuff kids dream of jumping off of or playing hide and seek in … or sneaking out to for a game of spin the bottle late at night.
This year I didn’t embarrass myself trying to back the trailer up to the barn on every run. I actually refused to back the trailer, but instead figured out a way to pull in a large arc to line myself up with the hay elevator. Greg didn’t embarrass himself by putting out his back or tripping over bales. By the end of eight hours, I thought we were doing well to even still be lifting bales. Well, I wasn’t exactly lifting them by then. I had devised a method of dragging them across the ground or, better yet, letting gravity drop them from the top of the trailer.
Greg was doing better, but he had made the mistake at the beginning, of trying to keep up with the lads, so his muscles were sore and the sweat was dried in dirty streaks on his face. As for the boys, at the end of the day with pay checks in hand, they spoke of parties by the river, of meeting up and hanging out. I looked at Greg. I figured a hot bath, a cold beer, some cheese and crackers for dinner, and that would be the extent of our party for the evening. Not so bad when you look back at the barn and realize you have all the hay you need for the winter, plus some to sell, and 365 days until the next harvest!
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2007 Scottie Jones
Frankie and Johnny started off life under Boston’s warm, feathery belly in the old chicken coop; however, they ended up in a cage in our kitchen, under a warm desk lamp. I’m not quite sure why Boston is not a better mother. Maybe this has something to do with her own young life beginning in the same cage, in the same kitchen, under the same lamp, almost three years ago.
Frankie and Johnny, aka Tuxedo (I will explain later), are about a week apart in age, but both were rescued from their hardened shells. It’s a tricky thing to extract a chick from a shell. It’s interceding in the natural course of things, but hard not to do when the peeping inside the shell begins to weaken. Our daugher, Annie, and I had sat on our hands for three or four chicks that never made it and there was a pattern emerging. It seemed a waste to grow a chick to term only to have it fail to emerge. And, Boston wasn’t helping.
Frankie turned out to be a yellow chick who uncurled his scrunched up legs, once free of his shell, and attempted to toddle around within hours. His feathers turned downy, his large knees grew stronger, and soon he was cuddling towards the warmth of the house lamp. A week later we introduced a small, black chick with white on his breast (ergo, Tuxedo), broken from his shell in a similar fashion, smaller, more frail, but free. We placed a piece of cardboard in the cage to keep him safe from Frankie until he could stand on his own and get out of the way if necessary.
Around this same time, we brought in four Heritage Bronze turkey chicks, the only survivors of an incubator malfunction at a local hatchery. Maybe the turkey business wasn’t such a bad idea. Of course, one of the four immediately keeled over for no apparent reason. Of course, it keeled over while friends were watching our place for a night. We had a sad note about the bird’s disposal. They had buried it in the back yard. I informed them I usually just throw the dead birds in the trash or out in the woods for the scavengers. We save the back yard for pets. Does this seem callous? I don’t know, turkeys aren’t that cute as poults, so there are no real endearing qualities until they develop some personality as teenagers.
Our daughter was home on a college break. This meant Frankie and Johnny had someone to play with. Annie would make sure the birds were handled by placing them on her lap, on top of a paper towel since Frankie had the bad habit of pooping within the first minute. She also saw to it they were taken for walks on the lawn. She informed us they would follow in a haphazard formation as she strolled through the soft, spring grass, chirping for her to slow down, chirping to keep up, chirping if something looked hazardous. It seemed a bit like the pied piper or something out of Gulliver’s Travels, at least from the chicks’ persepectives, I’m sure.
Soon enough, Annie was headed back to school and the responsibility of the chicks fell to me. As with previous kitchen-raised chicks, Frankie and Johnny were not that particular whose legs they were following around as long as it meant a belly rub at the end and some soft cooing to encourage them. The turkey poults were not a part of this process. They were too old to bond when we got them. Instead, everytime I went to change the water and the food in their box, they screamed as if they were about to be eaten. Do they have an inkling?
And then one day it was time to kick the chicks and the poults out of the kitchen. One day the place smelled fine; the next morning the strong smell of 6 week-old chicks was overpowering. If it was overpowering for us, I wonder what our friends thought even two weeks earlier! We secured a small section of the coop for the youngsters and held our breathe through the first few nights. Would it be too cold? Apparently not. Nor did they have to be taught to roost. I guess that part is hardwired in. Within a day, both chicks and poults had figured out how to jump and fly up to the rather high and large roost over their heads.
Just this week, Frankie, Johnny, and the turkeys were set free into the general population of the chicken yard. They hid when necessary from the fat, yellow hens; Peeps seems to have adopted the chicks as his own outcasts, although he is gaining quite a following these days; Rudy II could care less. Every morning when I open up the gates, Frankie will come running out to be picked up and stroked for a bit. Johnny is not quite so eager to be held, but he/she still streaks over. And, that’s the next big question: hens or roosters? It is still too soon to tell.
This week we also had small children at the farm who were enthralled we could actually pick up one of the chicks. The oldest, Megan, held Frankie until he had had enough. Megan and her sister were as excited to find the eggs in the nests around the chicken yard. It seemed like Easter and took the pressure off Frankie and Johnny, who probably needed some child downtime. Too much of a small thing can become alarming.
I think I may need to find the book we grew up with called Play with Me and keep it in the cabin for families to read. It is about a small girl who runs towards the animals in the wild and cannot figure out why they run away. Finally, when she sits quietly, all the animals approach her and sit down beside her. It is a good story for the farm. It’s actually a good lesson for all of us. Being quiet and calm can often get us closer to what we desire than chasing after something and never attaining it at all.
Top photo: Frankie is on the left; Johnny is on the right. Both were wiggling in Karen’s hands and pecking at her rings. Bottom photo: So, I guess this turkey poult is a Tom!
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2007 Scottie Jones