Friday, 25 July 2008

It's scary, making hay

If you've never indulged some minor masochistic desire to try haymaking, you'll have no idea quite how all absorbing, stressful, sweat-inducing and completely exhausting the process is for folks doing it the old way. Not building stooks or anything quite that medieval, but producing small bales that a person of ordinary strength can manage on their own or shift with the wheelbarrow without the necessity of a mega-tractor and fancy implements.
Turning the hay is fine on a comfy tractor but our tractors are so old they're practically vintage and the seats lost their bounce long ago.

When the hay has reached perfection (which is a big ask, fraught as it is with fanatical weather forecasting) you row up the hay and then the baler comes along sucking it in and spewing out bales. But yesterday the wind was so dramatic that I had to row up with the baler travelling all of six inches behind my tractor as gusts sent heaps of hay into the air and across the field moments after the rows were all neatly created. My clutch foot was so tired by the end of the day that I considered going to sleep in the field rather than walking back to the house.
Every bale gets handled multiple times: to stack so that the flat 8 or Perry loader can pick it up; again to position it on the trailer; and then to heave it off the trailer into the barn, getting higher and higher with every trailer load. You sweat copiously, back bent as the hay gets close to the roof, skin covered in itchy seeds and little bits of dried grass.
Friends appear at your elbow and help load, or unload - life would be impossible without folks like this. Two of the builders come and throw bales around for a couple of hours too, delaying their breakfast.
And then the scary bits. The tractors aren't nervewracking as long as you know what you are doing and the land holds no surprises (no hidden, violent ridge and furrow, tree roots, old bricks, springs, cliffs etc). Bales aren't scary either. But standing on a trailer and building the stack is completely terrifying if, like me, you've a real aversion to heights. I shut my eyes when lifted off the top of a loaded trailer by the bale loader, but then I have to clamber up again back at the barn to heave the bales off. To say this is a trial for me is an understatement. I do my best, I really do, but you won't catch me clambering around the heights with anything other than a grimace and unsteady hands. I only feel safe when I have the solid bed of the trailer once again beneath my feet.
The new bale counter didn't work, so I have no proof as to how many bales were made and handled over the last three days, but I do know it's between 1000 and 1500, and I feel I have an intimate relationship with each and every one. But it's done for another year, and unlike the 2007 washout, the 2008 crop looks fantastic. The sweet smell of well cured hay is in the air, and even a bit of local muck spreading this evening couldn't mask it.


garfer said...

When I was a kid my father had a farm.

Hay making was sheer unmitigated hell. Dusk till dawn toil, scratched arms, and sneezing.

It put me off the bucolic life completely. Can't you make those huge circular bales these days? Looks much easier.

Mopsa said...

You have to have a big fancy tractor and equally fancy (and hugely expensive) implements for big bales Garfer, and then instead of just lugging a couple of small bales to the sheep by hand (cheap, green, quick), you have to get out your big expensive tractor with its expensive diesel to carry each and every bale to the livestock. Plus, you can always sell surplus small bales to horsey folks and smallholders who wouldn't dream of tackling big bales. Honest guv, it's worth it in the end - or so I tell myself!

garfer said...

Bugger the expense and ungreenness, big fuck off bales are the way to go.
Unless you get a kick out of building huge Lego bale towers, which will probably just get set on fire anyway.

Lindsay said...

You must be exhausted. Son used to love helping nearby farm during his school holidays. His worst two jobs were cleaning slurry pit and cutting back the raspberry canes in the pyo field - absolutely back breaking, he said. Small hay bales become scarce nowadays - we had to search around for our two horses (again some time ago).

Jay said...

I'm so glad you got all that hay in safely! I've been thinking about you this week each time the clouds rolled in, because they've been cutting the hay in the fields opposite our house, and that's a small bale farm, too.

They buy a few bullocks to fatten each year so I'm guessing that's mostly what they use it for - and these fields are small and ancient and access is limited so I doubt the big fancy tractors would get round all of it. That is ridge and furrow in places, too.

I breathed a sigh of relief for them when I saw it all baled up this week!

Do you have footpaths across your hay field? These fields do. People are supposed to walk along the edge, but one year some selfish idiots decided to climb a gate in the corner and cut diagonally across - on a regular basis. He said it lost him eleven bales, that little track.

Mopsa said...

Garfer - hoorah - you are back on form - I was getting worried about you.

Lindsay - everything aches. Fingers, elbows, legs, neck. But I'm

paula said...

I didn't dare phone yesterday...just waited for your post to appear. Yeah, yeah, hoorah - that's so good. Now comes the part where the dehydration, stinging muscles and itchy sore skin and total fatigue over step the euphoria!
And I so agree with garfer - there's no getting away from it - big fuck off bales are the business!

FrauKlug said...

happy to read that it is all done. I hope you get a rest for five minutes, with something cold to drink, or what ever you fancy.

The valley here is awash in cut hay, and the sound of bailers.
Big hay trucks blow past us on the road, and I know it's hard ass work, but the fresh hay smells so sweet!
I feel like I'm moonlighting from over at Paula's blog...:)

Mopsa said...

Paula - I'm just so completely exhausted! It's age creeping up - I never used to get this knackered.

Frauklug - you are very welcome to visit, I'm sure Paula won't mind! Have just popped over to your blog - extraordinary - love that thistle gate - what a lovely idea.