Tag Archives: hay

Once a Cheater


On the day that we were married, Xandy delivered hay. Granted, we eloped, but still.

“It’ll be fast. I promise,” he said and then off he went to the farm, to load up twenty or so bales to deliver to some customer whose own livestock was hungry.

I should have known then.

Being a farmer’s wife means that, especially during the summer, you lose your husband, taken not by another woman but by a darker enchantress — the farm. She offers constant stimulation and a place where there is always something needing to be done and/or fed.

Even before moving to the farm, before we were married, I would often not see Xandy until well beyond dark. He’d come home covered in hay and sweat, with a smile that I knew was not for me. It was his idea to marry in early May so that he wouldn’t “be on a tractor pulling a hay wagon for all of our anniversaries.” Truthfully, I yearned for the days when we would finally be living together on the farm so that I could see him more.

And see him now, I do.

I see him out in the hay fields on a tractor round-baling or on the back of a wagon loading square bales. I see him walking the fence in our lower pasture or opening a new paddock for a herd of cattle that just won’t shut-up — wanting the fresh grass that they see beyond where they are fenced in. I see him heading to the barn with his red bucket filled with warm water ready for the milk replacer that keeps the motherless calves in the barn alive or in his truck driving away to check on the free running cattle up the road.

My father-in-law told me, when Xandy and I were first married, that I should not let Xandy talk me out of a vacation. “We can come and watch the farm,” he said. “Don’t let him tell you that he can’t leave.”

I thought about that for the hour or so that Kitt and I sat and waited for the local 4th of July parade. I realized, as I watched fathers with their wives and daughters walk to find spaces to sit, that it never crossed my mind to ask Xandy to go with us to the parade. As I loaded Kitt into the car, he and his father discussed the haying that they would be doing for the day. I waved and left. Perhaps the reason that I never asked was that subconsciously I knew how miserable he would be. He would go, because I asked him to, and then he would tap his foot and look at the sun, quietly longing to be back where there was work to be done. I would then feel pangs of guilt taking any pleasure away from whatever we were doing.

The number of fathers at the parade actually stunned me. Don’t they know that now that the sun is out, there is hay to be made? I thought about that again when I saw friends of mine with their baby at the library yesterday morning. Together. The library. Really.

In the middle of the day.

Xandy and I often talk about taking a family vacation  or an actual honeymoon instead of just an overnight to Boothbay Harbor which is what we had. Maybe someday we will do that. For now, I plan trips for Kitt and I — as she is too young to help in the hay fields. Santa’s Village sounds fun.

“Won’t it be exciting when Kitt is old enough to hay?” My husband looks at me in gleeful anticipation  as I read to him this post. “Then I can come home from work and you can have all the hay raked and tedded ready to go!”

“Um, yeah, exciting.”

Then I will have lost both my husband and daughter to that temptress. Can’t wait.

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July 6, 2013 · 8:33 AM

Haying 101 with the Brown Family Swarm


Summer is officially here. I know this not because of yesterday’s Summer Solstice, nor the weeklong sun and heat, but because my house was invaded by its usual summer swarm: The Browns. The swarm descends the minute the first tractor hits the hay fields to mow and does not leave until the last bale is put up in the barn. This can take anywhere from six weeks to three months, depending on the weather.

The Queen of the swarm, my mother-in-law, often brings sweet delicacies with her that lure us into her hive. On the first day of arrival this year, she brought buttery Ranger Cookies made with oatmeal, Rice Krispies, and a cup of butter. It is true what they say about how to attract bees.

The Brown Family is a friendly swarm who land on this place not to decimate like locusts, but to help with the chore that takes as much help as possible: haying. There are three types of haying that we do here on LongMeadows Farm — square bales, round bales, and silage bales.

Mostly empty barn waiting to be filled. Hay from last year means that we don't have to bale as much.

Mostly empty barn waiting to be filled. Hay from last year means that we don’t have to bale as much.

We have yet to come into the 21st Century with the first type of haying: square baling. Most farms now have equipment that stacks the hay on a trailer, and a machine that also helps to unload in the barn. We have one of the Browns or a close facsimile standing on the back of a trailer, grabbing each bale as it exits the baler, and stacking each sometimes eight or nine high. When it is 90 degrees and humid, this is the most dreaded job (at least in my mind) or the best if you are looking to sweat off a few pounds. My sister-in-law warned me never to learn it, because once I did I would actually have to DO IT. I took her advice. I learned to drive the tractor instead. No hay scratches all over my body that way.

Until, that is, we unload.

As long as the hay doesn’t fall into the middle of the road causing  a haypocolypse with oncoming traffic, the trailer is pulled into the barn and unloaded by two, three, or sometimes four people — depending on where it needs to be stacked. The farthest reaches of the barn often call for someone to toss off the trailer to a middle person who then tosses it to a person standing high in the hay who then stacks it.

The barn holds 5500 bales, this year we are shooting for 4000. We have 350 done.

You can see why these may have a hard time crossing the road.

You can see why these may have a hard time crossing the road.

**SIDE NOTE: For those new to “haying” the most important thing to remember is NOT to stack wet bales of hay. These bales heat up and could combust bringing the entire barn down in flames. This is not a rural myth, it is true. I have stuck my hand in the middle of a bale that has heated up to uncomfortable levels and started to turn black from scorching. CRAZY, right?!?

The next two type of haying is the least labor intensive: round bales. After the hay has been mowed, tedded (flipped to dry), and raked (put into windrows for baling) it only takes one person (usually my husband) to drive around and bale the hay. While not physically exhausting, this can be time-consuming. We are aiming for 100 of these. At this time, our count is 0.

The last type is the most fun to watch at the end stages: silage bales. These are the “white marshmallow” bales that you may see on the side of the road during the summer. Silage is nutritionally-rich, fermented hay that smells God awful. In the winter, my husband sometimes spills just tiny bits of the stuff on him after opening a bale, and I have to immediately banish him to the outside to strip. Yes, winter. Yes, Maine. Yes, it smells that bad. Even the smallest amounts fills the space with the acrid smell of vomit. Cows love the stuff. It makes me wonder about them. It does.

Silage bales take the round bales one step further. One person spears a bale with a tractor, drives it to the wrapper, and the other wraps. Check out this video of how it works. My sister thinks this looks like a fun carnival ride. I have to agree. The silage bale count is 23. We want 70.

A few of the worker bees will be back today for more haying fun. I’ll let you know the count later.

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June 22, 2013 · 8:38 AM

REST is a Four-Letter Word


Whenever I meet someone new and I tell him or her how I live on a farm, I am still amazed at how many people tell me, “Oh, I have ALWAYS wanted to live on a farm. It must be so nice.” I nod and smile and think, “They have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.” This may or may not be true, but at least it makes me feel better about the times that I get frustrated living here.

The thing is, living on a farm has never been a dream of mine. A place with a small garden and some land, sure, but a running cattle farm? Never. That is not to say that I am not grateful for the beauty and tradition of this place, quite the contrary. It is only to say that when I thought about where I would be at forty I never thought that I would be dodging chicken droppings in the garage and shooing barn cats off my kitchen counter. Just saying.

Farming, I have discovered, is something that many romanticize, but only a few are actually made for. This is because most of us are lazy. Offended? Think about it. If you are a farmer, and want to run a sustainable farm, REST is one of those four-letter words that you can’t repeat around your kids. After dinner, there is no settling down in front of the TV to catch up on the latest episode of C.S.I., there are fences to be walked, things to be fed, manure to be cleaned. To put it simply — there is WORK to be done — a four-letter word that is welcomed here on the farm.

I am a hybrid. A farmer’s wife who sometimes likes to lay in bed and watch Grey’s Anatomy. In my defense, teaching takes a lot out of me. Perhaps some day I will start a teaching blog that shows just how much work that we do and the emotional toll that it takes upon us, but this is not the time nor place. My goal here is to show what life on a little farm is actually like — with a little sass thrown in.

Long-time readers may remember that every year my husband and his family go on a camping trip up to the northern parts of Maine. While this is not the only time during the year that I am left to tend the farm, it is the only time when his father is also not around in case of emergencies. This makes me fully responsible for every cow, chicken, pig, cat, dog, and kid that lives here.

It is stressful.

This year Xandy planned his trip from Thursday to Sunday, a mere four days. Four days. I can do anything for four days, at  least that is what I told myself at the onset of this year’s camping time. Before the trip, Xandy leaves a list of names and numbers in case there is a “Cow Emergency.” The list includes neighbors who are willing to help if the herd runs into the road and the large-animal vet who is willing to come out if one of our cows goes into a particularly difficult labor. Someday I will describe what one of those particularly difficult labors looks like — as I have helped my husband by kneeling in the manure pit, pulling on baling twine tied around a half-birthed calf’s legs. But that is another story.

This story begins on:

Day One: Thursday

After Kitt and I visited the local farmer’s market so that Kitt could get her sugar-fix from the Amish bakers and I could get my carbohydrate fix from the Good Bread Guy, we came home to begin our solo time on the farm. I walked into the house only to be greeted by the ringing phones in the kitchen — yes two, see my post about my husband as an anachronism to catch up.

Xandy’s sister was heading up to the camping spot and wanted to know if the cows were ok.

“I just walked in the door. I have absolutely no idea how the cows are doing.”

“Well, dad and Xandy said that there are two cows that are ready to calve out, so they just wanted me to check in.”

“Two WHAT? They didn’t tell me there were two. I don’t know which ones are even still pregnant.”

She laughed, “I’m sorry, dude. I am just doing what I am told.”

I know that feeling.

“Let me get the cordless. I’ll go check.” I turned an episode of Dinosaur Train on for Kitt, threw my purple gum-rubber barn boots on (which I received from Xandy as a birthday present), and walked out back to find the cows.

The herd was miserable as we were in day two of a five-day heat-wave. All of them looked at me, panting, bleating, pleading — please make it cooler. Sam, the calf Kitt named after one of her classmates, pushed his way up toward me looking for food. His mother is gone (not actually — she is in our freezer — another long story), and Sam is now a “bucket-fed baby” meaning that he gets a bucket of milk-replacer every night. He looked at me and gave me a “mea0000.” I told him he would have to be patient.

Under the barn ALL of the cows looked to be nine-months pregnant and miserable, but none seemed more miserable than others, so I told my sister-in-law that they all seemed to be OK, and then I headed back into the house to get Kitt to actually feed things.

“I’ll help, Mom. I know what to do.” And she did — as most nights while I cooked dinner, she heads out with Xandy to “feed things.”

Luckily, most of the herd was out on grass, so there was no need to throw down a lot of hay like we have to in the winter. There were, however, two yearling bulls in the barn waiting to be snipped so that they could also be put out in pasture. Xandy assured me that he had put enough hay bales down on the barn floor to last me for the four days. When we walked into the barn, only one bale lay on the floor. One bale and a note:

“We took four bales of hay. We’ll be back tomorrow for 25 more — and we want the greenest stuff you’ve got. Signed Peter and Lisa” (*names changed to protect identity).

So they had taken the hay Xandy had left and wanted more. A lot more.

“Green stuff?!?” I mumbled at Kitt, “It is freaking MAY. How green can year-old hay be? I mean COME ON!”

I gave the remaining hay left on the floor and water to the bulls, and then looked to find “green hay” — at this point drenched in sweat from the 90+ and humid weather.

In the back left corner of the barn I found a wall from floor to roof high of tightly packed hay. I threw Kitt in the grain bin to “play” (or at least not get squashed by a wall of hay) and set myself to work.

I was wearing a tank top and skirt with my boots, and hadn’t brought any gloves into the barn with me — but that didn’t stop me. I wanted to get this done. I climbed the wall, trying to pull down as many bales as I could without causing the entire thing to collapse. I started to envision me, dead, under 50 bales of hay and Kitt stuck in the grain bin eating the grain and the mealy worm that she had found and had let writhe around on her boot to survive. “Mom look, A WORM!” She had squealed with delight when she found it. “That’s good, Kitt. A worm.”

I kept going.

After what seemed like an hour and enough hay chaff in my boots to feed the bulls the next day, I was done. I nodded proudly at the pile and left a note:

“Peter and Lisa, Xandy and Mark are out-of-town for the weekend. This is the greenest stuff I could find. If it is not good enough please check in with them on Sunday. Thanks! Sherry.”

I fed Sam and the barn cats, got my kid out of the grain bin, found some chicken eggs in another bale in the barn, and went into the house to make dinner.

The beer that I drank as I rocked on the front porch later that night never tasted so good. I have to admit.

Day one down. Tune in later for days two through four.

3 Comments

June 8, 2013 · 9:20 AM