One of my mom’s favorite stories to tell about her childhood was about loading the hay into their barn from the hay wagon. She (for those of you that don’t know her) is a tiny, girly-girl never much more than 110 pounds and has never liked the barn, horses or dirt. She with her numerous other brothers and sisters would be sent out to help with the hay bales. Inevitably, her brother Cleo would find a snake in the hay and throw it at her and her sisters. They would scatter, screaming hysterically at the boys and refuse to help move anymore hay. Apparently, it made a big impact on her because she has told the story many times over the years.
I originally thought hay was somehow magically delivered to the barns where I kept my horses. Later when I was responsible for my own horse’s feed and hay, I learned I would have to go to the feed store to buy hay. I have purchased my cars since my days in Florida mindful of if a bale of hay would fit in the hatch or the trunk. I really couldn’t have picked out a hay field from a field of grass. And I had never purchased more than a few bales of hay at any given time. I certainly hadn’t had the means or motive to move a large quantity of hay from a field.
Hay has become a big part of my life. You have horses. You need hay. The acreage behind my place is in hay and corn. My first spring in the country, my friend Linda, told me her dad would be cutting and baling hay. Linda asked if I wanted to buy hay “in the field” from her dad and that it would be cheaper than the cost at the feed store (or in his barn) if I did. That seemed like a good idea and economical too! Looking back it was certainly an “ah ha!” moment.
The first time Lauren and I headed out to the hay field with the truck to pick up our own hay was not a good experience. As five year veterans of this process, we have learned a lot. We thought we would take the truck and just throw the hay bales into the back. First, neither of us (at least in the beginning for Lauren and now for me) were capable physically of throwing a bale of hay much of anywhere. Together with gloved hands we could slide a bale into the bed of the truck, and then Lauren could climb up and arrange them in stacks. Again, due to our physical limitations, those stacks weren’t much more than two or maybe three bales high. If you think you can do better, we get hay from the field probably six or seven times a year, we always need help, you will burn a million calories and you can come show me how high you can stack it. For us, it was hard work.
But like most of my stories, this one ends with Lauren and me getting better at what we were doing-in this case hay collecting. We have one person drive and two on the ground with the hay bales on both sides of the truck. It is a quick process and I am lucky enough to be the one driving most of the time. We still have to stack in the barn but we have a process for that also.
The interesting offset to this hay thing, is I have become the Hay Broker. My friends who have their own place close to Houston or manage/own bigger barns are always on the lookout for good, quality hay at a decent price. Last year with the drought so devastating, getting hay for any price was almost impossible. It got to over $18 a bale at the feed store last year. Today it is $7 a bale in field behind my house. That’s an incentive to drive to my small town. The more hay you use (and one barn Lauren and I visited this year uses over 100 bales a month) the more this means. To me on my budget, it is clear I must go to the field to get my hay.
Usually, how this works is Lauren or I watch the fields behind our house. We speculate on when the hay will be ready. Roland comes to do the horse’s feet and he gives his opinion. But not being agricultural specialists, we never are quite sure when it is time to cut. Cutting also depends on when the tractor is available (it could be used for planting, applying pesticide or some other use). Not a minor detail is how long the weather will be clear and dry. You do not want to cut and have it rain. So, bottom line, we usually have no idea that they are about to cut and bale until we see the tractor head to the field.
This spurs a frantic and involved process of calling, texting, emailing the hay man or more often his daughter (because I want her to be involved in all the fun I am having) to determine when he be ready to bale so that I can send out a broadcast text to my hay list friends that hay will be available. I tell them the going price and ask for a commitment on the number of bales they will want. It is like being a power broker! The hay man needs to hire men to load the unsold bales on trailer and return them to his barn if they are not sold. He needs to know how many are accounted for by “my people”. Last year with hay so scarce, every bale was sold in the field. If you said you were getting 100 bales you best be on your way because someone else would buy it out from under you if you didn’t get there fast.
You wouldn’t think it would be so difficult but until I actually witness a bale of hay hitting the ground you don’t know for sure when it will happen. It can be too wet, the tractor breaks down, the baler doesn’t work or something else happens. Now understand for those on the hay list, they must- within the next 24-36 hours, hook up a trailer, find some willing help and make at least a hundred mile round trip drive to come get the hay. To compound the difficulty of pulling this off, this usually happens during the week (when most of us are at work) and always without notice.
So, Saturday when I was in Denver with my mom and family, Lauren texts me from home that the tractor was in the field cutting hay. And so, long distance, I got the word out that hay was being baled. After leaving Amber’s Colorado home at 6 am yesterday morning, I got back toTexas to an afternoon of loading hay. Our friends come down with the horse trailers and trucks. We made the trip to the fields and helped each other load up. I had the whole age thing going and got to do the driving (thank God!).
We put up 135 bales of hay for friends and ourselves. I was moving the old, leftover hay in my hay stall to make room for the new bales when a snake slithered out from under a bale. I yelled “Snake! Snake!” a few times but got no reaction from either Lauren or Blake. I went back to work and thought about my mom.