Numbering the Days of Hay

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)?

HayRestack

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.

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Raising My Replacement

Hard to say why but it’s hard to find kids who want to stand on a dusty hay wagon on a 95 degree day and handle a few hundred bales twice.  But it’s time to cut hay.  And I’m massively allergic.  I’ll spend days coughing, sneezing and wheezing after riding the wagon behind the baler.  But this year it’s not so bad.  My son, at age 12, rode the wagon.  I stood back and watched him succeed.

BuckBaler

Since he can do that, I can spend more time eating berries.  I was caught red-handed.  Mulberries were juicy!

MulberryJuiceIt gave me time to reflect on what we are doing, why we are doing it and how to get that last sweet dewberry out from under the poison ivy leaf.

PoisonIvyAndBerriesGood luck with that.  Maybe I should stick to mulberries.  Either way, the days of putting up our own hay may be numbered.

Mowing Hay in Pictures

We made our final cutting of alfalfa on Sunday.  My eldest son and I took a few pictures as dad was cutting the hay.  It was neat to see the swallows swooping in and grabbing bugs behind the mower.  There were also quite a few dragonflies out.  Most of the dragonflies and swallows are already on their way out.  Dad noticed the barn swallows started leaving about 10 days earlier than normal this year.

Watch for the swallows catching bugs in this video:

Farm Bank Deposits

Northern people have always been savers.  Those that didn’t save didn’t make the winter.  Those that saved may have made the winter.  Farmers are savers.  We are savers.  Unfortunately, we don’t have any money.  We save sunshine.  This is the main branch of the First Chism Heritage Farmers Bank, established in 18??.  We keep our sunshine here.

Isn’t it majestic? (don’t mind the paint job or the leaky roof)  Several times each year we walk up to the teller’s window to make a deposit.

Then, to keep banking fees to a minimum, we head into the vault to help arrange, sort and stack the deposits.  Here’s a small portion of this year’s deposits.

In the foreground you can see a low stack of sunshine in the form of alfalfa bales from the third cutting.  Further back, among the posts, is more sunshine in the form of grass hay we cut earlier in the year.  To the left (and out of the camera) is an absolute mountain of alfalfa hay.  There are also a few fair piles of straw tucked away here and there.  Tons and tons of sunshine.  Think of the different kinds of hay as different kinds of currency and I’ll keep my lame bank analogy running.  When withdrawals are needed we head into the vault, determine which kind of currency is in demand that day and grab a whole bale of it.

Since this is a farm economy (and something of a closed loop) any withdrawls from the loft vault are soon to become deposits somewhere else.

Then deposits somewhere else.

Then deposits somewhere else.

Then out to the alfalfa field.  Just add sunlight and a dash of rain and we’re ready to fill the barn vault again.

Mulberries, Hay and other Delicacies

Do you have mulberries where you live?  Do you even notice them?  We have them here.  When I was a kid in New Minden we had one in our back yard next to the gate that led to the alley and Mrs. Ruth’s yard.  There was a crotch in the tree just right for a 7 year old to park in and make himself sick eating berries.  I did.

Today we baled hay in the bottom where mulberry trees abound.  I picked a handful while I was walking out to where dad was ready to bale.

I picked another handful when the baler went under a mulberry tree.

I picked yet another handful for good measure.  Don’t mind the hay hook.

I also took inventory of the dewberries crop.  Not as many as I would like to see…

…and the blackberries.

We pick and freeze as many as we can get my hands on but we really don’t go past the edge of the woods because there’s a bumper crop of poison ivy out there every year.  This year is no exception.

Each spring we clean out our freezer and find forgotten gallon bags of berries and make a big batch of mulberry, dewberry, blackberry, strawberry mixed jam.  Yeah.  It’s pretty good…better on ice cream.

So anyway, we were out there to make hay.  I’m a little allergic to hay.  On the third pass I started sneezing.  By the fourth pass my hankie was soaked.  Dad runs the baler clockwise around the hayfield.  Both of dad’s main fields are on a slope so it’s an interesting ride.

Between the two fields in the bottom and the barn lot we put up another three wagons of hay.  We have had an unusually dry spell so this is far and away the best first-cutting hay we have put up in years.  Isn’t it pretty laying in windrows?  That hill made about 65 bales.

Hang on…ACHOOO!!!!