3 days of work. 15 days of fear. 3 months of worry. 9 months of hoping we have enough stored up. 18 months of hay available at any given time…drought could strike any day now. Each dry cow needs 25-30 pounds of hay each day to maintain weight in the winter. Each bale weighs 40-50 pounds. If I have 10 cows and feed for 120 days (Jan 1 – April 1) I need at least 600 bales to see me through…if they don’t waste any hay. These are the hay numbers…and I want to believe our days of numbering hay are numbered.
In my last post I talked about how proud I am of my son. At age 12 he’s eager and able to work. It’s not just that he has a desire to please me, he sees the value of what we are doing and recognizes that I’m just not healthy enough to put up hay. And, yes, I equate bad allergies to poor health. That’s a topic for another day.
My son knocked it out of the park. I may start referring to him as “Buck”. He’s 12. Nearly 6′ tall. Lifts bales with apparent ease. How did I get such a son? With a son like that my allergies are not a factor. Why wouldn’t I want to put up hay (even if he has to re-stack the wagon while I’m eating mulberries)?
Because I am not rich. Like you, I need the maximum return on my investment. Like everyone else, I need to make the best use I can of my time. For example, if I wanted to replace the after-tax income from my day job I would need around 8,000 laying hens. Then I could spend my whole day washing eggs, grinding feed, moving fence, shooting predators and praying…PRAYING that I’m able to sell all 400 dozen eggs I’m going to collect that day with a minimum of deliveries all to places that buy by the case (so I can re-use the cases to save money). Let’s compare that to my current job.
I began my day today by making sure my SQL agent jobs were all successful. Then I verified the status of my weekend backups. After that I ran a report on the progress of a long-running data migration. A new employee showed up and we showed him around. Then I ate a bagel. Then I took a quick break to deliver eggs to co-workers. Then there was an ongoing issue with SharePoint backups (you know how those can be) trying to tame our growing transaction logs…an ongoing maintenance issue. I spent the rest of the morning and a large portion of the afternoon writing the outline for a series of classes I intend to teach on indexing; clustered vs. non-clustered indexes, filtered indexes, indexed views (did you know the first index on a view has to be clustered? That fact really wows the crowds!). Finally, toward the end of the day, I needed to truncate and repopulate a set of tables for end-of-month reporting. An exciting day! I mean, did you truncate tables today? I did.
I have a head full of very specific training – so much so I have a hard time breaking down what I do for a living without resorting to jargon. How can I tell my kids what I do? ”Well, guys, I’m a database administrator. I make sure electronic file cabinets are sorted.” Meaningless. It would be so much easier to tell them I’m a chicken farmer but my skill set solves several problems for our family, even if they don’t understand what I do. First, it solves my allergy issue. I can sit in the air conditioning all day resting my body, working my mind…even if I have to rely on farm work to retain my sanity. Second, it really helps with the whole money issue…you know…eating food, paying for the farm, buying my wife pretty dresses. Finally, it saves us from having to sell 400 dozen eggs every day.
All of that to say, at this point, it’s not a good decision from a financial, nor from a health perspective for me to ride or even drive the hay wagon. Heck, just the labor expense of maintaining and running the equipment may force my hand on this issue. I would be better off to buy in my hay instead of maintaining a tractor, baler, rake, mower and wagons just for that one purpose (26 tires on all that equipment!). Instead of that, I should manage my fescue stockpile to minimize my own need for hay and, instead, deploy that capital toward appreciating assets. Again, not putting up hay means I’m dedicating more time to selling things my farm produces, not producing something my farm consumes, feeding it in a feedlot and hauling manure later (more time).
Gabe Brown keeps cattle in North Dakota. When I heard him speak he talked about planting cover crops to use as winter forage. 48″ snows were not a problem for him. Low temperatures were not a problem. The cattle walked a mile or more every other day to get water. No problem. He just kept moving the fence a little at a time to give them access to more of the stockpile.
Jim Gerrish wrote a whole book on the topic. In Kick the Hay Habit Gerrish details how expensive hay is, how much better off the cows are if you let them harvest their own feed and how practical it is for almost all of North America. He guesses that farmers continue to put up hay because it’s “just what you are supposed to do”…and because they like to…even if it is not in the best interest of their wallet.
Greg Judy suggests keeping 30 days of hay purchased in case of an ice storm that the cows can’t graze through. Julius Ruechel, Gordon Hazard, Cody Holmes…I could keep listing authors/ranchers who agree. OK, maybe not Joel Salatin. Or even my friend Matron of Husbandry.
I’m not presenting a case against hay. I’m presenting a case for why I believe our days of baling hay are numbered. For now, though, we have fully-depreciated, functional equipment, we enjoy haying (allergies aside) and it’s just what you are supposed to do. So we’ll probably keep it up for a while. Long enough to build strength and character in my sons anyway.