Like a walk through the country side living on a small farm is full of daily surprises, sometimes wonderful and amazing, and other times puzzling and sad. I hope you will walk with me as I live out my dream of living on this tiny farm. You will come to know the dogs, cats, Shetland sheep and chickens that make up this farm and what goes into keeping them happy and healthy. Come and join the journey with me.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hay Conversations

Sunrise after a Stormy Night

It's that time of the year when the buzz word is hay. Farmers are trying to cut it, livestock owners are trying to buy it. If you are fortunate, sometimes you are the cutter and owner of the hay.

Hay 'shopping' rates high up there on my dreaded things to do list. I'm not sure I could ever be a 'real' farmer. I would probably not last a year, but keel over or be committed in short order from a nervous breakdown (that one is for you Little T. ;-). As it is, I watch the weather, I worry that 'my' farmer whom I'm getting hay from isn't going to get into his fields. I take the long way home from town to see if said fields have been baled. I wish it would quit raining. Then I grow uneasy and start hoping that it will rain enough. Then I wonder if its raining (or not raining) over where the fields are located. I try and cover all the bases of worry, but sometimes something gets past me. (Like hay supplier almost blowing himself to smithereens when a tire he was working on exploded.---Stuff like that.)

Last year I was considerably nervous after my ordeal of almost running out of hay during the previous winter. So I jumped the gun and bought some round bales for quite a bit more than I would have paid later in the year, when everyone was getting a second crop. The hay was nice, with little waste, but it was full of some kind of awful seed head. Seed heads and marketable wool crops don't go well together.

About a week ago I called my square bale hay man. I left a message and he got back to me last night. It's summer, he farms. I knew it would take awhile. I think I ordered 175 squares. I haven't a clue what kind I will end up with, but I'm sure it will be good. We talked the merits of the alfalfa that is just coming on its second cutting. This is one of the few fields that he was able to mow when we had a 'dry spell' about a month ago. All of a four day dry spell. Most of his fields he hasn't been able to get into. We talked about there not being any lespedeza (seed too expensive this year). I was pleased with how well the sheepies ate the brome this past winter and how far it went. I want to hold out for a second cutting of mixed grass/brome, but I am fearful. What if it turns dry? What if hay is scarce? What if? What to do?? First cutting of almost any of the grasses around here yields allot of seed head and stem--especially with the fields being cut later. Good hay, but pointless with the sheep. They won't eat the stem. They waste a good portion of the hay. Second cutting yields the best crop and most useful, and cost effective hay for my sheep. But there is always the chance it will turn off desert dry and hot. Or it may stay wet and swampy and the first cutting won't get taken until it's too late for a second!

I put out feelers for round bales at the same time. The square bale man has a brother who sometimes bales rounds the size I need (or can handle). What about the red clover he asks? I say not too much, but some is okay. Low hops and grass make up some of the fields. Sounds good to me. The round bales don't have to have the quality of the squares. But again if its all stem it is like throwing my money in the wind. The ewes feed on the rounds throughout early pregnancy, when its best not to overfeed them anyway. Finding good round bales is even harder than squares. Getting someone to deliver them gets even tougher.

I really don't know how 'real farmers' are making it. Gas prices, seed prices, fertilizer---it's all astronomical. If you have to buy your hay on a large scale it's like putting out rolls of solid gold every time a farmer sets a big bale out. Rolls of gold, devoured in a day.

We didn't discuss price. Oh well, we did. Like this. "I don't even know what to ask for them (the squares) yet, with everything the way it is". My reply---Well, I figure hay'll be terrible this year with gas prices and everything else. So, I think I ordered 175 bales, and I'll find out what they cost sometime...... I trust my supplier not to overcharge, but I also understand he has to make costs and something for his time, so it ain't gonna be cheap, I'm sure. He is going to 'keep his eye out' for a nice looking patch when he is cutting. If he sees something suitable he will bale it for me. Otherwise we will try for a second cutting.

Last year, at the eleventh hour I got my hay, but it was very nice quality. A hot and dry summer spell of about six weeks set everything back. In the end though, the rains came and the fall cuttings were abundant.

I'll be praying for a good second cutting this year. In the meantime, the fields are ripe for harvest, soon as it drys out a bit.

I wrote this post a few weeks back, but hadn't gotten it up yet. My hay guy called me a few nights ago and brought over 24 bales for me to look at. It is a first cutting brome with some fescue mixed in. It's nice hay, although of course it does have some stem. We 'test fed' it to the sheep. I really wasn't thinking and fed them a whole bale, so they didn't clean it up. I think there will be some waste, but there is also some really good stuff in there, and no big seed heads. I went ahead and had him bring another load the next night. I got 71 bales all told, and still have around 30 from last fall. I paid $3.80 a bale (delivered and unloaded) which is a good price I think. He waffled between $3.75 and $4.00 but decided to 'split the difference' at $3.80. He also threw in a bale free, since it was a 'short one'. He is very fair to me, and I appreciate that so much. I've requested another 50 or so bales if he gets a nice fall cutting of brome or alfalfa, that I will use for the ewes at lambing time. Now, the quest is on for rounds!


Vicki Lane said...

We used to have acreage over in Tennessee on which my husband made hay and I know a little of what you're talking about. Cows probably aren't as picky as sheep -- but you still have to watch for moldy hay and the like.

Now we buy hay and just have to grit our teeth and pay -- but, like you, we're fortunate to have a trustworthy supplier.

Susan M. Bell said...

Like many people, I have never known what all goes into the "farming" of hay, the buying, etc. With the gas prices the way they are, I imagine everyone is feeling the pinch, but you don't really think about areas such as this, unless you are in the middle of it.
It affects everything.

Pat in TN said...

Been there/done that with the hay situation, although it was years ago ... I could not imagine nowdays. Like Vicki said, cows aren't as picky as sheep, but they are a hungry crew that can go through what seems like a good amount of hay in no time. Thank goodness I did have a good supplier back then so if I figured wrong and needed extra he was always able to help me out.

The farm next to us has only made one cutting so far this year and the hayfield looks quite sad at this point due to our lack of rain. This man cuts many fields in a large area and was telling us his costs are skyrocketing daily.

Tammy said...

Thanks for stopping over from Vickie's blog, ladies. It was a shock to me, even being raised around farmers all my life, what all goes into 'getting the hay in'. If worrying with the elements isn't enough, now with all the increased cost, it is a nightmare. It's taken allot of the 'fun' of hobby farming with the sheep out for me, since its so crazy expensive. Not even mentioning grain prices! It is a wonderful thing though to have a good 'hay guy' that a person can trust to do right by you. I really feel for people who are trying to make their living in farming.

Tina T-P said...

We're in the same spot, Tammy - The Shepherd has one farmer who will give us 2nd cutting & store it for $7/bale - and onw who told hime today - "Under $4" for first cutting - and we'll have to find storage - our girls are so spoiled if there is one stem in there that they don't like, they turn up their little noses at the whole bale! Brats!

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

We paid over twice that much for "horse hay," stemmy stuff the sheep won't touch. Still need to pick up some for the sheep! No second cutting around here, it has to be trucked in. Think $$$$$!

Tammy said...

Hi Tina,
I know I complain about the prices, but I can't even imagine paying $7.00 bucks a bale for hay! Of course cost of living is lower here, but so are wages, so I guess it evens out. I agree--the sheep can get SO stinking picky sometimes!
The guy I get my square bales from actually sells mostly to horse people--it's considerd 'horse hay' (and sheep hay for one picky sheep owner..ha). He used to let the 'horse people' go and get loads as they needed it out of his massive barn, but one year somebody liked the looks of the lespedeza he had set aside for me, and managed to deplete a good deal of it. So it's pretty good stuff, in normal years. Where do you truck yours in from?