Thursday, July 10, 2008

Makin' Hay While the Sun Shines

We got our first crop of hay into the barn last week. Yeah, that's really late. It has been an unseasonably cool and wet summer. In fact, you may have heard about our neck of the woods on the news, for the record-breaking flooding two years running. The Palm HQ sits up on top of Carlson Ridge, so if we ever got flooded I would expect to see an ark floating by. But besides doing a lot of damage to the unfortunate folks down in the valleys, this amount of rain has made it tough for the farmers to get into their fields. Hence the very late hay crop. Moving hay into the loft is a great cardio-vascular workout. I commented to my neighbor who helps us put our hay up that no one needs a treadmill or a membership at the gym if he actually works his farm.

We had to get the loft in our small barn fixed this year. The roof of this outbuilding had been allowed to deteriorate and water damage had undermined the beams holding up half of the loft floor. Buildings go down surprisingly fast when rain can get in through the roof. We had the roof patched as soon as we moved to the farm; we're only just now getting around to having the loft fixed. But mission accomplished, just in time to get the first hay crop put up. (An added bonus is that the kids can fire up the rope swing again.

Hay is made of plants of whatever variety (in our case a mix of grasses, alfalfa, and clover) that are cut, dried, and then stored away for future consumption by animals. It used to be that every farm that kept animals had to put up hay, but most of the larger farms have moved over to corn silage. There is an interesting potential connection between our massive flooding and the move away from hay. A friend of mine was commenting just the other day that as recently as half a century ago much farm land was kept in a mixture of hay fields and cultivated crops. The hay fields helped to hold soil and prevent very rapid water runoff, especially here in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin where farms are often positioned on some pretty steep terrain. But with the big push toward maximizing agricultural profits (especially now through the cultivation of corn, corn, corn--see below), all available farm land is increasingly tilled annually for row crops. This in turn increases soil erosion and also speeds the run-off from these lands into lower lying areas. Throw some record-breaking rainfalls into that mix and you've got the makings for the disastrous flooding we've been seeing. It's interesting how man's greed and short-sightedness really can have some pretty major unforeseen side-effects.

Hay is always important in climates where animals cannot graze year round, but this year hay is a precious commodity. Due to the ethanol-from-corn insanity that grips our nation (more on that in a future posting) hay prices have gone through the roof, while supplies have declined sharply. I am thrilled to have 480 bales of first-crop hay in my newly repaired loft. That's more than enough for my small holdings (and there's at least one more crop coming), so I'll probably end up selling some. I'll try to cut my neighbors a good deal. Gouging folks on the fundamentals of life is pretty rotten; helping them out with what they need from the bounty of my land feels a whole lot better.

1 comment:

Tim J. said...

Haying is cool. Very distributist.

I love the way the fields look around here after the hay is baled. I want to do a painting of such a scene, eventually. Not very original, but still beautiful.