21 Tons of Hay

Leaping Lamb Farm (barn, hay, Lammie, sunlight) Oct 2007 008

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

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