Every year we feel like farmers when it’s time to make hay. We prefer to make square or conventional bales as most of our buyers are horse owners and the small bales can be lifted without machinery. To make them we need three days of hot and sunny weather: Day 1 is the cut, Day 2 the turning to dry it out completely, and Day 3 for baling. Phil has to organise half a dozen workers to follow the truck and tractor, picking up bales to load, then unloading and stacking them in the barn. We average 1000 bales and it takes about four hours to complete the job.
If the crop is too heavy and the weather too cool we have to make silage. Damp grass is rolled into giant bales and shrunk wrapped with plastic. Large machinery is used at every stage as each bale holds the equivalent of 15 conventional bales so we don’t need to organise workers. Once they’re ready, a farmer will buy the lot and independently arrange for it to be picked up and delivered to her/his farm.
This summer we’ve had two cuts of silage. Last winter was rainy enough that we couldn’t get a tractor on to top the grass before the spring growth began. By October we had to have it cut and wrapped, ending up with 62 big bales stacked by the driveway. They were sold within a couple of weeks in anticipation of a drought predicted for the summer.
The drought never eventuated. We had long, hot and sunny days punctuated by enough short bursts of heavy rain to make it the biggest year of growth I can remember. By the end of January we were ready to make conventional bales. Unfortunately, it was also the most humid summer I’ve experienced in the twenty years I’ve lived here. The grass couldn’t be cut until the humidity dropped enough to allow it to dry. Mouldy hay is only good for mulching in the garden.
Our contractors are old school mates of Phil and they reassured us that we could still make small bales by the end of March if we got four days of clear weather. They cut the grass on Good Friday, one of our hottest days, while we were off playing tennis. It was exciting to return home with the metre high grass cut to the ground. Our excitement turned to dismay later in the night when the first of two heavy and unpredicted localised showers fell.
In the end it was the combination of random showers, a thick cut of hay and the end of the tax year for Phil at work that made us decide to go for silage. Easter lunch couldn’t compete with the thrill of watching Butch and Greg roll and wrap bales around the property. The equipment is incredibly impressive and efficient and the smell of cut hay divine. Judy was only 1 off the winning number of 79 bales in the betting pool, a record number for us. Once we realised that would have equated to 1400 conventional bales we were particularly happy we’d opted for silage.
For now we’re enjoying the open vistas and tidy property. I even saw my first morepork (NZ native owl) in the early morning hours after the cut. My guess s/he was enjoying access to the mice and rabbits being more visible than they’ve been all summer.
Ah, rural life is good.