Friday, August 7, 2009

Baling and enjoying it

There is nothing quite so wonderful as riding across a field on the bed of a hay wagon. I feel 8 feet tall. The world is spread out before me. I can see the hills and valleys of our land, all exposed to the bone and contours delineated by the windrows of cut alfalfa. Summer wild flowers bloom at the edges of the field – goldenrod, purple prairie clover (an native prairie plant that is gradually making its way back into our habitat, milkweed, just beginning to bloom (with its attendant monarch butterfly caterpillars,) fleabane, black eyed Susans, yarrow, and several varieties of wild sunflowers. The fragrance of cut alfalfa fills the air, and every once in awhile, I catch the herbal scent of wormwood. Beyond our fields, the hills east of Erhard rise up to meet the sky. And the sky stretches from horizon to horizon, a deep summer blue, striated with cirrus clouds. The wind cools us and defeats the mosquitoes and gnats, although it does sometimes blow bits of hay into our eyes.

The baler spits out bales at a reasonable pace, and they are just right – green 3’ X 18” X 18” rectangles that are solid and heavy enough to stack well, but light enough so that we can keep baling all afternoon.

Grab a bale with the hay hook, drag it to the back of the wagon and slide it into place. After the first five bales, we have to lift the next five, but even lifting to the top of the stack, three bales high, is not impossible. The fifth row of bales is much more difficult. Dave can lift a bale five rows high using only the strength of his arms and back. Aubrey and I boost the bale up on top of the fourth row using hands, arms, shoulders and each other. Often, one of us crawls up onto the fourth row and the other pushes the bale up. Then the person on top can push it into place on the top of the load.

We build the load of hay bales toward the front of the wagon as we build it up, aiming for 90 to 100 bales on the wagon, but usually settling for 70 to 80. Our fields are hilly and bumpy. Speeding along on the top of four bales of hay, on a wagon with no springs, on a bumpy, rocky field that slopes at a 30˚angle, is an exhilarating experience – also dangerous – so we usually limit the sizes of our loads.

On Tuesday, Aubrey lifted 1000 pounds of hay, one fifty pound bale at a time. Dave and I take turns driving the tractor, but because she doesn’t drive a standard transmission, she always works on the wagon. I’m not sure who has the best end of that deal. I only lifted 500 pounds of hay (hardly seems like any compared to Aubrey), but I spent half the day in a tractor that smells like a mouse nest.

Thursday, toward evening, the clouds moved in and the humidity rose. We stopped more often to check the moisture in the bales, trying to keep it below 18%. Our friend, Glen, learned to make hay as a child. When he helped us bale in June, he showed us how to scrape the alfalfa stems with our fingernails to test for dryness. Now we can recognize wet hay as it comes out of the baler. But the evening humidity is another matter. As the humidity rises, previously dry hay picks up moisture and the bales become heavier. Of course, we are also tiring, so we resort to the moisture meter to give us a more objective opinion.

Sun light streamed just below the accumulating clouds. Rain is predicted for Friday. We covered two wagon loads of the best hay we have baled this year. Our muscles are tired, but the day has been perfect. We drive to Maple Beach for the best hamburgers and French fries around and collapse into bed around 9:30.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear you got a couple hundred bales of good hay. Don't be so modest. I'm sure Aubrey lifted 10,000 lbs of hay and you 5,000.
    The math editor.