I was working out of town yesterday, climbing in the mountains of eastern Kentucky searching for streams and wetlands, but Brandon was home making hay. As soon as I got down out of the mountains to a place with cell phone reception, I had texts from Brandon waiting for me, with the picture above, of the hay bale that he made. What?! He can make real hay bales?
I knew it wouldn't be long before Brandon was making hay, since he's been up to something in his workshop, and we recently did some raking experiments to see how labor intensive it would be to gather the hay by hand. The hay from our first raking experiment had been laying the field for a few days, and was rained on at least once, but it was a good test to see if we wanted to pursue hay making by hand. We raked up this giant pile onto a tarp in just a few minutes. It was nice to be out in the field in front of the house raking grass in the evening cool. It was easy to pull the tarp loaded with raked hay to the barn. Maybe we can do this?!
Look - there are lights in the workshop! One of the projects that Brandon has been anxious to get started with during his summer break from teaching was to run electricity in the workshop. I rescued some cool light fixtures from the dumpster, and we were able to use them to illuminate the previously dark barn near the house where we keep all the tools. We can go in the door and flip a switch and there are lights! And electricity! It's like magic. What is that box he's making...?
Looks complicated to me...
Armed with a fully functioning workshop, enough tools to build a house, a collection of left over lumber from other projects, youtube, and time to build - why not build a hay baler!
Every time I peaked inside the workshop to see how it was coming along, I was impressed. What a contraption! It has moving parts even.
Most our neighbors are busy making hay right now. They have giant tractors and big cutters, rakes, and balers, and do tens of acres at a time. Make hay while the sun shines, right? We even had a visit from a young man who arrived on his tractor and pulling a giant mower, who tried hard to talk Brandon into letting him cut and bale our hay. You know, to help us out. And so he can keep the hay, of course. Brandon was in the house starting dinner, and I was outside checking out the progress on the baler box, when this guy pulled in the driveway on his tractor. He turned off the tractor and asked "Is your husband home?" Well, hello to you too! I asked Brandon to come outside, since I could tell discussing hay is a man only conversation based on this guys dismissive attitude toward me. But really, I'm sure it's not polite to talk to another man's "old lady" as he affectionately referred to his wife during conversation with Brandon, so I'm not really offended. I had to laugh to myself a few minutes later when Brandon asked me to go in and stir the food he left cooking on the stove. Ha! I think I just got sent to the kitchen!
If the chickens are any judge of hay, then I think we have pretty good stuff growing in our fields, because they spent all their time picking through the hay we raked up and piled near the barn. Now that the baler box was ready, we were ready to harvest some fresh hay and see how it works.
Brandon mowed half of the front field, since we didn't want to cut more than we wanted to rake up at one time.
His little tractor pulls a mower behind it, and it cuts a small swath with each pass. It took about an hour for him to cut half the field.
While he was cutting, I looked closely at what the vegetation was so I would know what's in our hay bales. It's mostly fescue, with some Timothy, a little orchard grass, and a few other non grass type plants, like red clover. The flowers on the fescue and Timothy have bloomed, but the seeds aren't quite ripe. I think this may be perfect hay.
The hay was cut late in the day, so it had a few hours to dry before dark. Mid day the following day, Brandon raked it into rows so it could dry, and then tried out the new baler box for real. String is placed in the box and through the holes in the door. The door is closed and the hay is put in from the top. The big lever is used to smash the hay into the box so more hay fits in, and that's repeated four or five times until it crammed completely full and the door looks like it's going to pop open. Then the string is tied tight to hold it all together, and the door is opened to remove the bale. Wha-la - a hay bale is born!
He said it was easier to use the dolly to take the baler to the field than to pull the hay on a tarp to the barn, and that he did five bales in thirty minutes. Not bad!
The hardest part was lugging the finished bales to the barn so we can store it out of the rain. Brandon has plans for hauling future hay bales with the tractor, but I think it would be adorable to have a miniature donkey do the hauling. After all, he's the one who will eat the hay.