Of all the farm-related jobs we do in a year, getting the hay in is probably the most fun. It’s hard work, and it can be dangerous, but we need lots of hands to help, so it’s a social occasion too, an outdoor party with a guarantee of good weather, although there have been times when we were racing a thunderstorm.
Not very many people make hay the labor-intensive way we do any more. We use machines that are thirty or forty years old. We cut fields all around Adamant that our neighbors would like to keep open, and we haul the hay back to the barn in an old dump truck.
The weather is the tricky part, because to get the hay dry enough to be compressed into a bale and stacked in the barn, we need three days in a row that are sunny, or at least dry. It’s not easy to find that many days of good weather in a row in Vermont and especially not this year.
We started a couple of weeks ago with a very small piece of a field to see if the machinery was ready. It wasn’t. We had breakdowns, but we managed to put in 60 bales, before the weather changed. It was a very small beginning since we need 2000 for the winter.
The first two days of work are almost all Bill’s. He cuts the grass with a big machine that he pulls behind one of the tractors. After it has been cut, the hay has to lie in the field for a day. Bill drives over it pulling the tedder, a machine like a giant eggbeater that flips the hay and fluffs it up. The day after that Bill can rake the hay into long rows called windrows, so that the baler can pick it up and make it into bales.
Then the fun begins. The baler drops the bales all over the place. We drive the dump truck through the field throwing bales into it.
Someone (I am usually the one) stacks them up into a huge interlocked pile that can stand the trip back to the barn. We can always get 80 or 90 bales into one load. Sometimes, if there are enough people who can throw that high, (and each bale weighs 40 or 50 pounds), or if we have enough time to fool around, we try to see how many we can get on a load. I think the most we ever did was 116. We take them back to the barn and unload them and stack them all over again. When all the hay is in, it feels wonderful to sit for a while and talk and laugh together.
This is the first of what I hope will be a series of blogs about my writing and my life on the farm, two things that are intertwined. They feed each other and enrich each other. My fiction comes out of my life in Vermont and my life has writing fiction at the center of it. There is a chapter in THE SIMPLE LIFE that tells how Sonny Trumbley and his family picked up the hay and put it in the barn.