|Thoughts. On hay.|
And I meant it. Hay is the single most important element of proper horsekeeping. Without it, you simply can’t keep horses in the Northeastern USA.
When we lived in our old place, hay caused a constant, underlying anxiety. Come May, June, July, I was watching the weather like a farmer, fretting about rain, counting the number of dry days that were strung together, praying that local haymakers were haying during them and hadn’t missed the brief, sunny windows.
Then, the hay was ready and the farmers started calling. For them, selling it straight off the wagon in the field was the best deal for them, because they didn’t have to spend time loading it into their lofts, a hot, sticky, scratchy, dusty job.
|The old way.|
For the first few years, we would pick it up from the farmer, using our horse trailer to haul about 100 bales at a time. It sounds so easy, but packing that trailer full of hay is a hellish work, then hustling home, setting up the big, old hay elevator and unloading into the loft – always during the hottest days of the year—is a panting, gasping, collapsing exercise. Then back to the farmer.
My thought was to get the all the hay we needed for the year in July, and the farmers wanted that too. That meant repeating the above until we had a minimum of 700 bales, more would be better. I realize that’s a drop in the bucket for some farms, but for us, it was a heck of a lot of work that both my husband and I dreaded. Later, we were able to find haysellers who delivered, which was a big relief – removing exactly half our work.
But there was a bigger problem. The beautiful, fresh, green hay I loaded in the loft in July was often moldy by November.
And I learned three things: 1.) Some farmers who hay primarily to feed cows do not make good hay for horses, because, apparently, cows aren’t nearly as picky about hay as horses. 2.) Many hay farmers do not realize their hay is bad when they bale it (and no one ever tells them.) 3.) Most importantly, I was not able to tell, from a fresh hay bale, what hay was good and what was going to mold in a few months.
To combat all three of these problems, I planned to just buy hay in November, because, by then, I would be able to see and smell the fully finished bale and know if it was good. But the idea that I might not being able to get hay that late then kept me buying it off the wagon.
Well, this year, I’m very happy to announce, I DON’T hate hay. This, despite the fact that we had an extremely wet hay season.
|Our homemade hay|
The reasons I don’t hate hay this year: 1. ) We made our own hay, and while it is not perfect by any stretch, it’s perfectly edible, we have plenty of it for back-up, and it will fill in, in a pinch, and also gives the horses something to munch on all day. 2.) Thanks to #1, this year we ARE buying in the winter and I actually do have the chance to smell and look at hay before I buy it and can tell for sure that it’s good. And 3). I buy in small loads from a variety of people, so I am not locked into one particular person’s hay. Locking in to one person’s hay is not bad when it’s great hay, but since great hay is hard to find, I like the variety, and I think the horses do, too. 4.) We don’t have a hay loft at our new place, so no more elevators and working in those insane conditions!
Oh, and 5.) A side benefit – I have become darn good at stacking hay in a pick-up for transport!
|Yesterday's load, safely carried for 30 miles.|
|Yesterday's hay seller gave me the eggs we found in his hay!|