Tuesday, June 24, 2014

An elevating experience

Our regular hay supplier called late Sunday afternoon to ask if we were ready for the hay. We were. We'd been watching the weather and seeing the farmers out in the fields and knew that hay day would be coming.

The Day the Hay Comes has always been a big one around here, and indeed before we got a bit smarter about it, it used to take us several days of very hard work to fill the hay mow above our barn. That was back when we used to go pick it off the fields ourselves with the old Nissan pick-em-up truck. That old flatbed was designed in part for hay, but it could only take 42 bales.

But the farmer that sold us hay we had to pick ourselves would only give us a fifty cent-discount, and picking was a three-person, not a two person job. Our friend Alysa would come to help, in return for gleaning rights over our garden. We would probably have let Alysa glean all she wanted for free, especially after she and Anders had baby Nils, but she preferred to trade work if we had anything for her to do. Since we have a lot of surplus in season, these gleaning rights were not inconsequential, and the one thing we needed help with was the Hay Day. It was a pretty good trade.

But Alysa is long gone, back to Scandinavia, or at least Wisconsin.

The updated hay system is to have Amishman Simon S. deliver the hay from his Jackson fields, and he and I together heft it into the barn.

Simon operates a dairy in Thorndike, but rents a couple hay fields just up the road. Being an Amishman, he has to hay with horses, and truck hay with horses, unless he hires an outside helper with a vehicle. But that costs real money, which being an Amishman he'd prefer not to spend. So what he does is that he sells us the hay from the Jackson fields and uses the check to pay for his outside help, a neighbor that drives truck to help him get his whole hay mow in. This is probably a couple weeks work for the neighbor, plus gas and wear and tear on the truck, and we usually buy around a thousand dollars worth of hay, so it works out about right.

It was with this in mind that I bought and refurbished that old hay elevator. I don't mind pitching hay bales into the door of the hay mow. If the bale is a normal weight, I can even do it directly from the ground, even with a standing start. If the wagon or flatbed is nice and high, that makes it easier. Simon, who has a decade or more on me, can throw a hay bale accurately anywhere he wants up to about forty feet. Neither of us is any slouch when it comes to hay bales.

But after two or three hundred such throws, both of us are getting pretty tired, since each throw is essentially a thirty-forty pound shot putt-type of maneuver. The elevator sure takes the edge off this job.

Above is Aimee's movie of our hay operation this year. You can see how much easier it is for me. So I was pretty pleased with the whole business, and the elevator was a good investment.

That's neighbor Larry minding Simon's baby Benjamin. Larry is retired and doesn't heave hay, for medical reasons. No doubt Benjamin will, in another year or three.

You can hear Ginnie the Guinea cackling in the background.

The sheep are voting for the new elevator, with their mouths. They always like Simon's hay, and they like hay day too.

Simon, who prefers the inside job, stacking the hay, was less aided by the machine, but seemed pleased that it took less time overall. That allowed him to get back to his other hay fields in record time.

I think he likes to be inside to give him a break from the sun. Normally, without the elevator, inside is easier than out, but with the elevator, inside is harder.

One slight snag -- the elevator motor must be jump-started, but will jump-start in either direction, up or down. Occasionally a particularly heavy bale would send it into reverse and we'd have to stop the operation and jump it again in the right direction! This could be discombobulating. Good steady rhythm is everything with manual labor like this.

I don't know whether this is by design or by mechanical fault. If anyone reading this knows the answer, let me know in the comments or by email. It's a Snowco elevator, and I assume the motor is the original. But don't know for sure.

We've had great hay weather this year. It's been sunny and dry, not at all humid, for nearly two weeks. The whole first cut is nearly in, across the whole of mid-central Maine, and the landscape has changed accordingly. No longer do we see quite as many huge bright green fields of wavy grass. Now we see a more yellow patchwork.

I always enjoy these landscape changes, as I drive around the state.

Maine is a good state for growing grass, which makes it a good state for growing sheep.

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