Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

The Big Hay

Posted on | April 1, 2010 | 7 Comments

I know it’s not a big deal to most farmers.  With their hundreds of acres and farm machinery worth thousands of dollars.  But around here we work our 4 acres by hand.  And we buy our hay in the squares bales that fit in the back of the Suburban.  Or on a big load, in the back of the Chevy S-10.  I know, I know, Diary of a Wimpy Farmer.

So when my local hay dealer told me there were no more square bales, I was aghast.   “But, but…” I stammered.  “I already moved the double stroller, the collapsible soccer net, and the boogie board out of the cargo space to make room.”  He  nodded sympathetically.  “And the oldest kid is sitting up front, even though we don’t know how to deactivate the air bag, so I could cram all the kids in car seats into the second row.”  He peered in at the children, who were headbutting each other due to lack of personal space.  “And, most important, I’ve waited until the last minute to come by and I am totally out of hay!!”  He shook his head sadly at my plight.  “I will have to buy alfalfa pellets,” I whispered in horror.

“Now, let’s don’t panic”, he said, straightening up.  Irregular double contractions are one of my favorite things.  It’s how us country folk recognize each other.  It’s easier than a secret handshake and enables identification even when we’re spiffed up for church and don’t have our mud boots on.

He pointed over toward the massive hay shed next to the grain silo.

“I’m full up on round bales.  Why don’t you save yourself some trouble and just put out a couple of those?  Each one has about 25 square bales worth of hay in it.”

I looked down at my Sloggers forlornly.  Sloggers are the garden clogs I use for a lot of my farm chores.  They’re waterproof and have a sole heavy enough for handling a shovel.  But they aren’t really high enough to protect my ankles and the cuffs of my pants from mud.  And the toes aren’t strong enough to keep me from screaming when the pony accidentally-on-purpose stomps on my foot.  But they’re so cute.  I mean cute like I can wear them to pick up a kid from preschool and nobody realizes I was just cleaning the hen house.  Cute like coming in colors called Geisha Blue and Petal Pink.  Cute like a farmer with only 4 acres and a wheelbarrow for moving heavy things around.  I sighed.

“I don’t have a tractor to move round bales around,” I admitted.

He shrugged.

“Not a problem.  I’ll load ’em up on the truck with my tractor and have my boy drop ’em off at your place tomorrow.  He’ll back up to the barn and roll ’em right in for you.

I hesitated.  I thought about how there was no drive going to our barn, just a walking path across the front yard.  I considered the way the yard sloped away from the barn, meaning the bales would have to be rolled uphill.  I thought about how the door to the kidding barn was only 4′ wide and the last time I tried to open both of the double doors to the goat barn, the locks on one side were rusted shut.  Then I thought about the cost of alfalfa pellets.

“Sounds good,” I agreed.  “Have him call me in the morning. Around 7:30?”

“Sure,” he said.  “‘We’ll’ve finished breakfast by 6:30.  He’ll ring you up after that.”

This is another way us country folk recognize each other.  Most people don’t suggest calling each other before 9:00 in the morning.  But if you don’t call us country folk before we go out to do the morning milking you might not catch up with us until lunchtime.  Which we call “dinner”.  (Like I said, better than a secret handshake.)

That’s how I ended up on the phone, early the next morning, with a “boy” who had to be in his 30’s.  He jotted down my address and assured me there was no delivery charge.  He told me the bales were 5′ by 5′ and said he’d be right over.  Leaving me exactly 6 minutes to notify the Other Half of my morning plan.  The poor Other Half, innocently sipping his coffee in his pajamas, anticipating a relaxing day off from work.

Let me tell you, shoveling manure isn’t the only dirty work in farming.  There’s a lot of ugliness behind the scenes that you just can’t imagine.  Like telling the Other Half I only needed him for a few minutes to help me manage the gates and steady the hay bales as we moved them.  I like to think it wasn’t a lie so much as a hope.  An expectation.  A pipe dream.

As soon as the Other Half saw that truck loaded with 2 enormous rolls of hay heading up the driveway, he turned to me, incredulous.

“Do you think those rolls will actually fit through the doors into the barn?  And just exactly how do you think we will get them over there?”

I nodded confidently, even though fear and shock at the sight had me quaking in my Asparagus Sloggers.

“Sure they will.  He said they were 5′ by 5′ but I’ve seen round bales at plenty of other farms.  They’re only 4′ by 5.’  And we’ll just have him back up all the way to the barnyard gate so we don’t have too far to roll them.”

“Back up a 2 ton truck OVER THE SEPTIC SYSTEM?!  And roll the bales UPHILL?!”

In the Other Half’s defense, this is exactly what the 30+ year old “boy” said when he exited the truck and asked me where he should put the round bales (except without the capitals and exclamation points).  But after a moment, having obviously descended from a long line of farmers, he just shrugged and got on his work gloves.  That’s what farmers do.  If the hay needs to go in the barn, then the hay needs to go in the barn.  Let’s don’t get upset about it.

So he parked on the septic system and with some pushing, and shoving, and tilting, and 20-point K turns, we maneuvered those round bales right into the goat barn.  Uphill.  We nixed trying to squeeze one into the 4′ entry of the kidding barn because the “boy” pointed out,

“Yeah, most round bales are 4′ by 5,’ but ours are bigger.  I told you that on the phone, right?”

The Other Half just stared up at the sky and shook his head.  I think he was biting his tongue.  Literally.

It’s not his fault.  When he met me I had an executive office and wore dress suits.  He had no reason to suspect that eventually he would wake up to curds and whey separating in a strainer in the sink, a fridge in the middle of the deck filled with eggs and garden produce for customers, using the monkey bars on the kids’ swingset to hold ducks for slaughter, and 5′ by 5′ hay bales lumbering up the driveway.  It can be hard to be a farmer, but it can be worse to be a farmer’s Other Half.

And that’s enough of a pity party for them.  I mean, really.

In the end, the hay bales were tucked neatly into the barn and the children clambered up on top, wrestling and giggling a mere 4 inches from the rafters.  Because nothing says, “Hey, these round bales are awesome!” like a bad fall and a concussion.  The “boy” chuckled, patted a goat, gave the pony an ear scratch, and still insisted there was no charge for delivery.  Even though it required the brute strength of an oxen team and the precision maneuvering of brain surgery.   Just another day on the farm.

As his truck roared off, the animals gathered around the hay in awe.  The matriarch of the goat herd stepped forward and gave the bales a few experimental head butts.  Satisfied with the lack of aggressive response, she made a couple full body rubs, and then snatched a mouthful of orchard grass goodness.  With a nod of her regal beard and a wag of her tail, she signified her approval and the herd moved in for a morning snack.  Not an effusive expression of pleasure, but she is, after all, the queen.  Dignity, ladies, dignity.

So now we have the Big Hay.  Just like the Big Farms.  With their Big Land and Big Machinery.  What could possibly be next?  A stainless steel pail instead of a mixing bowl for milking?  Cross ties instead of an old stump for securing animals during hoof cleaning?  A horse big enough to ride?  Ooops!  Sorry about that, Applejacks,  I got carried away for a minute…….

© Stevie Taylor 2010. All Rights Reserved.


7 Responses to “The Big Hay”

  1. Sandybee
    April 1st, 2010 @ 7:35 pm

    Oh, the things I’m missing by being a city girl! I’m not sure I want to know about the monkey bars and ducks thing. That sort of has an ewwww factor about it. Fabulous story. I like the way you got that round bale in the square door.

  2. Duane Keys
    April 5th, 2010 @ 7:13 am

    I laughed out loud (at work) at this: ““Now, let’s don’t panic”, he said, straightening up. Irregular double contractions are one of my favorite things. It’s how us country folk recognize each other.”

    We finally moved up to round bales (we have no tractor either). We bought off craigslist a bale hauler trailer for about 300 bucks. It works great. We still keep a few square bales around but it’s so much nicer not having to feed hay every day (since the round bales last a while).

  3. Janis
    April 5th, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

    Great story. Round bales really save lots of feeding labor IF you got room to store them and muscular friends to help move them around.
    Just be careful the bales don’t roll on or collapse upon your smaller critters. It can happen.

  4. Tamsen
    April 10th, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

    The first time we bought round bales and got them in the barn we were so proud of ourselves. It’s a big event, requiring me, Other Half and Best Friend who can’t stop buying horses and keeping them at my house, plus the Kuboda with the automatic transmission that all my neighbors look at with envy.

    The horses, donkey and cow loved the hay. They went from lasting five weeks to disappearing in two by the end of the never-ending-rainy winter. The horses all put on weight, and we just about went broke buying round bales. Did I mention that these are the same horses that usually turn their noses up on hay? I guess they just didn’t want to get their feet muddy. It was an awful wet and muddy winter.

  5. Kim
    April 22nd, 2010 @ 8:43 am

    Ah if only I could feed round bales free choice, that would be the life. I have both draft horses, donkeys and one very fat tennessee walker that think we adhere to the “eat everything off your plate that momma gave you” rule. They will stand there and eat non-stop until they consume it or fall over trying. I have round bales but have to fork it into a wheelbarrow and distribute sparingly. But I can dream…..

  6. Jenny
    April 23rd, 2010 @ 4:57 am

    You just described something that could have come straight from our “farm”. Right down to the farmer’s spouse–my husband. He had no idea what he signed on for when he married me, because frankly I had no idea either that we’d be raising chickens for eggs and meat, milking goats, carrying pigs in the back of our Blazer and scrambling for hay in the middle of winter. On a happy note, we are getting around 70 (square) bales of hay delivered this weekend. But only after I was starting to worry about running out first (again!)

  7. va_grown
    April 29th, 2010 @ 6:48 am

    Hilarious!! My better half loves using round bales–now that we have a tractor that can lift them. Farm life is such an adventure and your blog is such a treasure!

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