Monday, July 4, 2011

The Drama of Hay

I first had a clue about the drama of hay, talking with my friend nurse Sandy at the Benedictine Nursing Center.  She has 5 horses.  She told me there is a short window where hay is available at a reasonable price, and she has to be on her toes with phone available at all times, to arrange for hay for the winter for her animals, or she'll lose it to someone else.  If you don't get hay during this period it would be prohibitively expensive later.

Now I have seen the other side.  Gary has 10 acres, and he grows hay on 7 of it.  The biggest part of the drama is weather during the haying season.  "Make hay while the sun shines" is no joke.  If it rains during the process, you can lose the whole crop.

Here is how it goes.  First the hay is cut.  It needs to dry out a bit, so it sits for a couple of days, then it needs to be turned.  A tractor with a particular implement turns the hay.  Then a couple of days later, the tractor combines each two rows into one, making fewer passes for the baler.    Next, the baler comes, and it is an amazing thing to watch - it travels along, taking in hay, and turn out bales from it's back end. You can't help but think of it as eating up the hay and passing it like, well, you know.

Gary was on pins and needles yesterday during the baling.  His friend Fran wants 350 bales and the rest will go to neighbor Harold who has 10 horses.  Gary and Kelly combine their crops for this sale.  Kelly doesn't have as many acres in hay, because part of his is planted in evergreen trees that sometime after his lifetime would be harvested.

Gary normally would have about 435 bales, but this year because of weather only had 335.  His expenses are rising, with fuel and fertilizer, so price needs to go up.  Last year he charged $120/bale.  This year to break even he would have to charge $130/bale or to make a little profit (very little, for all the trouble), he would need to charge $140/bale.

The next really important step is for the hay to get moved and under shelter, to protect from weather.  If the customer does this, Gary can charge less than if he had to get his work done and figure out where to put it.  At this moment the bales are sitting in the field waiting to get picked up.  Next bit of drama, will Fran and Harold accept the higher price?  If not, how to find other customers?

It is a sketchy business, because Gary needs someone else to do the tractor and baling work. It is hard to find people willing to come work on a small 7 acre operation.  His friend Dennis does it, just because he is a friend.  His wife, the lovely Geri Ann, is the one who provides eggs for us from her chickens.  I am impressed with what a community there is here, how connected everyone is and must be.

Here are photos:

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