Sunday, August 2, 2015

August 2, 2015 - You Gotta Make Your Hay

“Rise and shine!  Rise and shine!  Get up!” my mother would yell.  Every morning, it was the same thing, unless I had already awoken on my own.  Seven days per week, 365 days per year, she would make everyone in the house get up early.  On weekends we were allowed to sleep in but never later than 8:00 a.m., and even that was “pushing it,” she’d say.  You had to get up and start your day, and if you protested saying you didn’t have anything to do, she’d certainly find something for you to do.

She always said, “You gotta make your hay while the sun is shining.”  I used to hate hearing that because she said it so often about everything.  It’s another way of saying “there’s no better time than the present,” or, “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”  She liked those sayings a lot, too, and frequently said them, much to the disdain of the rest of the household.

Large hay bales waiting to be used.

There’s actually a science to making hay.  The idea is to preserve the nutrients in the grass so that your animals can have enough to eat during the winter, but there’s a lot that can go wrong in the process.  You’ve heard the phrase, “timing is everything”?  With hay making, timing is of paramount importance.  You need the plants to be at the right growth stage, but you also need the weather to be at very favorable conditions.

First you cut the grass down.  Ideally, you want three days of great weather to help dry it out, and you hope and pray that Mother Nature will cooperate.  Cutting your hay very early in the morning on a sunny day usually means that you’ll get at least one good day of sunshine on the cut grass.  Then you have to do what’s calling “tedding.”  This is basically fluffing up the cut grass to help it dry better and get the air and sun in there.  Some people ted twice or even more, but if you ted too much you could shred some of the leaves and lower the quality of your hay.

When the hay is nearly dry, you have to rake it.  This helps to expose any hay on the bottom of the batch that might still be a bit wet.  You have to rake on a hot and sunny day when the dew has burnt off, and you rake the hay into what’s called a windrow, which is a long line of heaped up hay.  Then you let it dry a couple of more hours in the blazing sun.

Here’s where the “science” comes in.  When do you start to bale the hay?  If you bale too soon, you’ll trap in moisture and spoil the hay.  If you wait too long, the leaves will break and crumble, and your hay will be lowered in quality.  This is when you’ll find the oldtimers out in the field touching and feeling the windrows, even smelling them.  Back and forth they’ll go until they’re satisfied that the grass is no longer green but is instead crisp.  Grab a bunch of hay and yank on it.  If it breaks cleanly, it’s ready.  If the bunch can’t be broken, it’s still too green.

Now it’s time to bale the hay, assuming it’s at about 15% moisture.  If it’s over 22% moisture and you store it in a barn, the spoilage and fermentation will heat the bales up and cause them to spontaneously combust.  Now you see how important timing can be.  Some people make round bales with their dry hay and others make them square.  Storing the hay inside a barn is ideal to keep the rain away, but sometimes you’ll see large bales out in a field.  There will be some spoilage around the outside of these bales, which can’t be helped, but if there’s no room for them, there’s no room for them.

But what has all that got to do with my mother?  Or me, for that matter, since I don’t allow anyone in my household to sleep beyond 8 a.m. on a weekend either, and during the week I’m usually up no later than 5:30 a.m.  It means that while conditions are favorable--which pretty much means while you are awake and alive and aware--you get yourself up and you get moving and you get some work done.  Do it while you can.  Do it when it’s needed.  Do it for the sake of doing it.  But whatever you do, get on with it, because procrastination ruins everything.

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