You wait for the perfect window – at least 3 days – enough time to cut, rake, pile and then bale it… Then, when you see the perfect window where sunny skies and hot days are forecast you make the leap, hoping the forecast stays true.
In those 3-4 days rain can ruin over 3-4 months work. It can rot the hay, or at least lower the quality to the point that an $8 bale of timothy is only worth $5. When you’re looking at 300 – 400 bales, that’s a significant loss… which is bigger when you consider that most small acreage owners are contracting the work out and giving away a cut or at least paying an hourly rate to the farmer doing the work.
Many of the farmers in the area were caught with a surprise storm – later advertising “rained on” hay for $3 off the going rate), some caught out twice. This is why farmer’s advice for cutting hay used to (and sometimes still does) include prayer.
When you’re running a hobby farm you often can’t justify purchasing on the equipment needed to hay a field. It’s over $20000 for even old farm machinery to cut, condition and bale, so you usually settle for a crop share (60/40) or an hourly rate (we were quoted $120 an hour for operator, time and equipment maintenance). There are pros and cons to each method. If the farmer is getting a cut, he’s motivated to prioritise your field. If he’s getting paid by the hour and your hay gets rained on before being baled then you’ll need to get the hay flipped again and that can be a couple hours more of his time.
Our hay was delayed a month before cutting due to the farmer’s baler breaking down and an unseasonably wet June. There was no window of time long enough to cut, dry and bale until last Thursday, when the forecast cleared for a good 2 weeks of sun. That’s when our guy arrived and set to work cutting.
And that’s also about when the forecast changed – promising rain a week down the road. That’s ok, with only overcast skies we still had a few days of buffer. But, as all good stories go, on Monday morning the forecast changed again – thunderstorms that afternoon. The hay on one field was ready, so our guy set to work baling it and I took the rest of the day off work to collect some pallets and start collecting the bales when they were ready.
We worked all afternoon with the whole family. The oldest two stuffed bales into our lawn tractor’s trailer while we went around in my dad’s pickup truck and a trailer wondering – and praying – that we would get it done on time. The younger two… went for hay rides.
We slowly ate away at the more than 300 bales, stopping for water breaks and dinner. At around 9:30, as it got dark my brother showed up as a surprise and we were more than happy for his help. As they say, many hands make light work.
As night wore on we could see the lightning flashing to the north, and yet, stars shone overhead. It looked like the storm had been diverted and we would make it.
Near 11:30, with our arms and legs sore from chucking hay first into the trailer and then onto the growing pile in our pole barn we counted down the last 10 of the 50 lb bales.
Sweaty and tired we packed in the last of the 300+ bales, having moved over 15000 lbs of grass. We were exhausted, but very thankful to have got the hay in dry, counting one field down and the other one needing only a few more days to dry… and a forecast of good weather.
I woke up this morning to the following forecast:
Thunderstorms are expected to develop across the Southern Interior today and there is the potential for some of these storms to become severe. The main concern is heavy downpours however large hail and strong winds gusts are also possible.