By Christine Tailer
Perhaps we had ourselves a hay day, but it was really more like three hay days of amazingly hot temperatures, one right after the other, in what seemed like an unbelievably unending row of long days. The early spring rains that had made it difficult to even plant the garden had suddenly turned into dry, scorching weather.
Granted, the temperatures did not climb much past 90, but the contrast between the cool flannel shirt weather of the past few weeks, made 90 seem unbelievably hot.
Greg had already cut the hay with the sickle bar attached to the little red tractor. At the time of cutting, the weather had still been pleasantly cool. I checked the forecast, and dry hot weather was predicted for the next 10 days, perfect for letting our hay dry in the fields before baling.
The day after cutting, I happily ran the tedder across the hay fields, spreading the cut hay out to better dry. The next day I ran the rake across the fields, pulling the hay into windrows that would allow it to dry through and through, and make it easier to gather up with our round baler. Two days later, I bent down and picked up a clump of hay from a windrow. When I shook it, I heard a nice dry, almost rattling sound. The hay was ready to bale.
We hooked up our old blue round baler (built sometime between 1981-85) to the back of our old blue tractor. Color coordination is ever so important on the farm. The sky overhead mirrored the blue of our equipment. We greased every fitting on the baler, set a new roll of string in the bin, tied its end off to last year’s string, adjusted the tension and pulled it through the machine. Thankfully, the string did not break. We were ready to go.
Greg started off down the first windrow. I followed behind in the four-wheel drive green machine to make certain that all went well. It did not. The baler easily picked up the windrow of hay, just as it should, but the hay refused to roll between the belts. Three times Greg tried, and three times the hay refused to start rolling into a round bale. He pulled over into some shade by the side of the field. Little did we know, but our hay day had only just begun.
We investigated the situation, and quickly determined that the right side of the lower belt was too far above the metal roller. The hay was just sliding on through and not starting its roll. So, we set to work adjusting the height of metal roller bar. This was far easier said than done, as the right side of the roller had become tightly bound with last year’s baling string. We took turns, climbing inside the belly of the beast, safety chocks in place, and hours later, arms and fingers aching, we had finally freed the bar and adjusted its height lower and closer to the bottom belt.
We returned to that first windrow. I watched from behind and the baler dutifully picked the hay, but again, it refused to start to roll. Greg asked if the lower belt had been turning. It had not. We returned to the shady side of the field, but now the hour was late, and we were both covered with prickly bits of hay that were plastered to our wet skin. I might have been perspiring, but Greg was clearly sweating. We decided to call it a day.
The next morning was relatively cool, and after animal chores we returned to the baler. We tightened the lower belt. Now, when I say we, it is really, more often than not, Greg who knows what to do, and does what needs doing. All he had to do was look at the machine, and he saw what to loosen, what to tighten, and what needed to be done. Honestly, it is all quite magic to me.
Greg set the belts turning and from a heathy distance, I wet them down with belt conditioner from a spray can.
Greg returned to the windrows and I held my breath. The baler perfectly picked the hay up as it had before, but now I could see that the lower belt was turning, and the upper belts were wrapping the gathered hay into the start of a round bale. I gave Greg the thumbs up. I was beaming. He was too. By the end of the day, we had baled both of our hay fields.
We still need to carry the bales over to our hay shed on the tractor spike, but there is no rush. We are retired after all, and the forecast doesn’t call for even a drop of rain for the foreseeable future. So, our hay days might not be quite finished yet, but as we returned to the house the sun just beginning to dip behind the valley hill, I wondered at the expression “hay day.”
I had always thought that it had something to do with being jolly, and even though I am quite content, because I feel as though we really have accomplished something, I was not feeling the least bit jolly. I was hot and tired, and covered with prickly hay, but even so, I did have to smile.
Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in Ohio south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.