Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Outside of the box

Our baler is essentially a box with attachments. Rolling pickups lift the dried alfalfa from the ground and feed it into a giant screw. The screw directs the alfalfa into a three sided box. When the box is full, a plunger compresses the hay, metal needles and knotters tie two strings around the firm rectangle, and then the plunger pushes a fifty pound bale of hay out the back of the box. Dave repairs the baler when necessary, but most of the work involved with baling takes place outside of the box.

Dave learned to bale from his grandfather fifty years ago. I learned from Dave thirty years ago. We begin baling as soon as the dew dries and put the hay in the barn in the late afternoon when the day is the hottest. For most of the years we've been farming, we have worked with three people building a load on the wagon, one person to drive the tractor and two on the wagon. Then we need three to four people working at the barn, one or two to unload the wagon and three or four in the barn stacking bales. It worked well as long as we had kids at home or friends of kids or kids of friends to help out.

In the last few years, Dave and I baled on our own, taking turns driving and building the load. We hired four Somali boys to help put the hay in the barn. This year Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, fell during baling. During that month, Muslims don't eat or drink anything between sunset and sunset. Dave feels that it's dangerous for the kids to be working in the ninety degree heat in our barn without drinking water so we were at a loss to find workers. A Somali friend asked if we could put the hay in the barn in the morning when it was still cool.

What a great idea. The only change we had to make was to cover the filled hay wagons with big plastic tarps every night in case of rain or heavy dew.

Our young workers were mostly ninth graders, slender and not used to hot, hard work. Ato helped me transfer bales from the wagon to the bale elevator that moves the bales into the barn. Usually, I either did it myself or had one of the boys drag the bales across the wagon so that I could load the elevator. Ato suggested that we lift each bale together. We each grabbed one twine with both hands, walked across the wagon and lifted the bale onto the elevator together. It was so much easier.

In three days, baling had changed. We could do things more easily and coolly just by thinking outside of the box.

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