Thursday, August 23, 2012

haying with dire wolves

I asked some friends how to describe an afternoon of haying to folks who never did it before. I was given this perfect reply:

Tell them to dress and prepare for four hours of moving 400, 50-pound, Brill-o pads around in 87 degree weather.

But, you know, the fun version.

That sums it up. Haying is a several step process, and around here it is all done by big machines that cut, row, turn, and bale the long stems of grass. But most people still need help bringing in the loads off the field and stacked in the barn for safe keeping. And that is what Ajay and I were called to do Tuesday. Bob Ackland of Maple Lane Farm has been letting me ride and drive Merlin all over his vast farmland for months, so when he asked for one afternoon to help put up hay I was happy to say yes. Ajay was thrilled. Both of us are farm-work junkies and haying is the marathon of all the events. You are certain to end it ten pounds thinner and drunk from the tiredness, but like any long run you feel reborn after a good shower (or a night at the fair, in our case).

We got to Bob's dressed for the work. When you hay you wear long pants, boots, gloves and (optional) long-sleeved shirts. Yes, it's hot but when you are dealing with the razor sharp chaff and constant scraping of bales against your skin it is a lot less painful having some carhartts between you and the grating. We had on straw hats for the sun, bodies full of water, and then we jumped into the wagon behind Mark Wesner (driving tractor) and our job was to lift and stack the bales in the wagon. We did this for three hours.

You find your role fast when you join a work team like this. I was poor at stacking in the wagon, too much like math for me. So I opted to be the one who picks up the bales from the piles in the fields and puts them in the wagon for others to load. I adored this work.

Mark Wesner watched from the tractor in (I think) surprise at the brute force and constant speed of the work. I am not one to brag but when it comes to bucking hay bales I am gold-medal material, son. It felt like something my body was meant to do. As the day grew longer and we hit over 300 bales I kept at it. There's a stride to hit in haying just as there is in a run or a long trail ride on horseback. You feel a point of poetry of the body, when everything is oiled and practiced enough to pump at peak efficiency. This is the kind of feeling you savor in an afternoon of haying and when you reach it you feel like you will live forever, long as there is decent work to do.

When all was done, we hopped off the last wagon and enjoyed pink lemonade and cookies, brought out by Bob's wife, Caroline. It was heavenly. And Mark said he thought watching me buck up hay bales was like watching someone who had the perfect body for the task, it just worked. He then said, smiling and happy, "You're built like a stone mason!" and Ajay cracked up, laughing. He ragged on Mark, "So THAT'S how you talk to women!" and I laughed. I am what I am. I'm built like a dire wolf, not a deer and so far this stout little frame has taken me some amazing places and done some serious work. I'm grateful for it, not ashamed of it.

But Ajay hasn't stopped calling me "Hay-Mason" since.


Blogger DarcC said...

Hay Mason is the best nickname ever!

August 23, 2012 at 8:46 AM  
Blogger goatgirl said...

Have you read "Anna Karenina"? There is a wonderful haying scene in it that I always think about when we are haying....but your description of haying is more what I experience.
If you haven't read it then I would strongly suggest you power through it this winter. There is really a lot about farming that I found very interesting. Plus you get the satisfaction of having read such a difficult book.
And apparently I am a robot because I have trouble proving I'm not....but I'm ok with that:)

August 23, 2012 at 9:47 AM  
Blogger MIB said...

In my opinion the best beverage for haying is honey water. It's basically what it sounds like: tap or well water with enough honey mixed in to give it just a hint of sweetness. That bit of extra flavor is enough to get me to make sure I'm hydrating enough during haying, plus the sugar from the honey gives me a little more energy.

I introduced our group of friends to honey water at haying in late June, and it's been a big favorite with everyone ever since.

August 23, 2012 at 10:39 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have only had to unload hay into the barn at the stable where there are over 100 horses. The men don't seem comfortable letting me do it but I enjoy it too :)

August 23, 2012 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger jules said...

What a great telling of your day! Girl, you seem like you found your stride.

You inspire me!

August 23, 2012 at 11:09 AM  
Blogger Joshua Tolley said...

It's interesting to me that hay loading is still done by hand some places. I've loaded bales by hand onto a horse-drawn wagon quite a few times, and will likely do so again, but around here people make giant bales and load them by forklift onto semi-trailers.

August 23, 2012 at 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another good (19th-century) drink for this kind of work is switchel -- water with ginger and cider vinegar mixed in as well as a bit of sweetener. The ginger adds flavor and settles your stomach, and the vinegar adds electrolytes. Tastes a bit like lemonade. I researched it after I read about it in the Little House books.

Lynn T

August 23, 2012 at 2:40 PM  
Blogger farmwifetwo said...

We bale ours into rounds... so much less work.

Also, the baler didn't kick the bales to the trailer? Not the one's the fling them into the catcher and then you take them directly to the barn to sort. But the chute after the baler lifts them so all you do is reach down from the trailer, to the baler and pick it up and then turn to the person beside you etc and stack. Everyone is on the wagon.

Been there, done that. It is hard work.

Joshua, a lot of horse people prefer the squares. They are also easier for small farmers like Jenna to use and if you have a square bale feeder there is less waste. We have a round bale feeder for our cow/calves and they toss a lot on the ground. Also those bales require a large tractor with a spike to move. They will kill you if they roll on you. So it's better to use what you can handle and be safe.

August 23, 2012 at 2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel the same way about splitting wood. I can do it for hours and I love the feeling of being able to keep winter's cold out on my own!

August 23, 2012 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger aerogramme said...

I can still remember the first time I loaded straw bales ... It took me a few days to not be hurt when taking a shower, legs and harms were so badly scrapped ... only difference with you it was a two men work ... well 1 and a 1/3 of a men I was barely 8 and working with my uncle he was loading them on the trailer and running after the tractor to turn it at the end of the field and I was stacking them. I still miss those rides back to the barn on top of the load at the time it seemed like I was 100 feet high ... must likely close to 15 feet ...

August 23, 2012 at 5:09 PM  
Anonymous cowgl said...

I hope you aren't going to compare yourself too closely to the dire wolf....they ARE extinct you know! ;-)

To add another way of dealing with hay, we grind big bales in a big grinder, 20-30 at a time and end up with a big pile of chopped hay. That hay then gets loaded into a feed wagon with a few dumps of silage and it mixes itself as I feed it out of the wagon. It decreases waste by almost 99%! We still have big round bales for when we run out of chopped, and we keep about 250 little bales for hand-feeding or if it gets so cold nothing starts (me or the skid loader). It's been a little dry here in the Midwest, but the last three days I'm bringing in big bales that the gov't allowed us to bale from CRP land. Hurray!!

August 23, 2012 at 5:46 PM  
Blogger Madcap said...

I LOVE "Hay Mason"! Lucky you with such a nickname!

August 23, 2012 at 5:47 PM  
Blogger Copper + Cream said...

We used to do that every summer growing up. It was HARD work, but you felt good at the end of the day. I am hoping to do that again on our own place someday. I just finished writing on my blog about how my hubby got to help wrangle some cows this past sunday. (our neighbors needed some help with branding,castrating, and doctoring some calves) So fun! Brought back a lot of childhood it!

August 23, 2012 at 7:38 PM  
Anonymous susan hill said...

I have been reading your blog for awhile now and really enjoy it. I can totally get where you are coming from on the haying. I worked in a horse barn and was delivered 3000 bales of hay. The owner didn't like where they stacked them and had me move them. I think it took me a week but I really enjoyed throwing those bales around and the satisfying tiredness after. I miss doing more physical work like I used to do. Good for the mind and body!

August 23, 2012 at 7:43 PM  
Blogger admin said...

I sure wish at times I was built like a dire wolf since life dealt me the work from early on…now I just have bad knees and a touchy back (but I’m not about to quit and I’m finding ways to embrace it all). Jenna you are lucky! And you love haying…I have not met anyone in a long time who loves it. Good stuff.

August 23, 2012 at 10:45 PM  
Blogger Holly said...

Good always to hear of women using their bodies to accomplish a great deal:) As my late dad would say of me (and you,too I imagine) "built like a brick s***house, not one of those skinny weaklings".
I do love, "Hay-Mason" nickname.

August 25, 2012 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger Brenda said...

Haying: isn't it amazing that such hard work leaves us with such warm memories! I have to tell you how my brilliant neighbor managed haying when I was a kid. We lived in one of those little 3 bedroom ranch houses so common in postwar America and across the road was a farm. They had 4 kids so naturally we gravitated over there, what kid can resist animals and hay mows? Well, their dad became our 4-H leader, let each of us kids have our own calf IF we came over and did chores everyday. We had 9-11 of us kids working the field at anytime all summer (except for the week we all went to 4-H camp). He had us manually "shake hay" all morning(spreading the windrows out to dry)with pitchforks, after lunch the youngest of us rolled the bales into piles(actually many forts were constructed!), the rest drove the tractors for tettering, windrowing,and picking up, farmer did the actual baling. then ll of us picked up and unloaded the hay into the mows. Went home for supper, then back over to do 4-H work with our animals AND play baseball. Holy cow, I nearly pass our in exhaustion thinking of it all but what incredible memories and what a brilliant farmer. His wife was my 4-H leader for sewing and cooking, fit all that in between chores, sometimes working on sewing or practice demonstrations for the fairs(we had about half a dozen we attended) under a tree drinking koolaide during a haying break. Never mind I had a congental heart problem and eye tumors, was legally blind until age 8, and had many many surgeries, I grew up a very bold confident child who understood that hard work felt good and that I could do it as much as anyone else. and like you Jenna, I never felt my body was anything except perfect for everything that mattered in my life. Washington Cnty men sure have a way with words though, don't

August 25, 2012 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Thanks for the go girl!


August 25, 2012 at 7:39 PM  
Anonymous Kamela said...

Perfectly described. What a strong woman:)

August 26, 2012 at 9:10 PM  

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