Making Hay While the Sun Shines

While that may have been the prize puzzle phrase on last night’s Wheel of Fortune, it is also what we’ve been up to at work recently at the Cornell Research Farm in Willsboro.

You see, a rare thing happened last week. The Sun shone brightly and warmly for 3 successive days thus allowing us simple peasants of the land to participate in that age-old ritual: making hay.

Make hay while the sun shines. It’s better than feeding a snowball.

It was an event I was able to experience for the very first time and boy, it felt like being in agrarian heaven.

After filling the barn twice and having it hauled away in tractor trailer loads each season for many years, recently the Willsboro Farm had been making less and less of the sweet herbage.

This year the boys got the gumption after the annual farm tour to cut, ted, rake and bale our way through July’s high humidity.


Making Hay

The hay and straw had been discbined (cut) the day before and then tedded (tedding spreads out newly cut hay so it can dry) the next morning after the dew had sufficiently dried.

Tedder: hay making equipment


Next the hay (and rye straw) had to be raked into windrows. This fluffs the hay up while also bringing it together into a neat pile.

As the newbie of our little trio, I was put to the task making windrows with a John Deere 702 hay rake and JD 2240 tractor.

My first attempts at making windrows looked more like curvy snakes than the straight lines of fluffy hay demonstrated to me below:


Being my first time, I was reassured that the baler could get at my windrows just the same.

The rows were easily scooped up and tied into 3 wire square bales with a New Holland 209 Hayliner.

Being baled below is rye straw:

Picking up

One of the coolest pieces of equipment we have at the Cornell Research Farm is the New Holland 1065 Stack Cruiser.

It’s a vehicle you actually drive around that makes short work of picking up the bales, stacking them in rows on a bed and then sliding them off in the pole barn.

Check out the video: 


Fun with Fodder…

Among all the activities and tasks that I’ve had so far on the farm, this felt this most like “farming” perhaps because of the teamwork and time sensitivity involved.

With one of our crew on the baler and the other on the stack cruiser, we all had a role to play and helped each other out cooperatively as the day wore on.

With hay there are a multitude of variables to take into account over the 2-3 day period.

The weather and rain (obviously) factors in greatly as well as the growth stage of the forage, which contributes to protein levels, etc…

I’ve heard how farmers back in the day in the Champlain Valley would all get together (I suppose the way the Amish still do) and help out each other with haying.

… but then not so fun

It was towards the end of the day, we all had that feeling of accomplishment, and then “Murphy’s Law” of farming kicked in.

While bringing out the penultimate batch of hay back to the barn, a brake line on the stack cruiser broke causing the driver to ever-so-slightly puncture the radiator on a disc plow unexpectedly.

After a day that was going so well, wasn’t it just like farming to end up like it did?

Turn misfortune into opportunity

We were about 2/3’s of the way finished and it was already late in the day.

We had about 60 or so bales of straw and hay still to pick up. We had to pick them up by hand and loaded all we could on two flatbed trailers.

We also had quite a bit of hay that was already tedded and raked but needed to be baled.

With the Stack Cruiser down, we didn’t want to bale more than we could move to shelter.

It would of been a shame to let it all go to waste and get rained on – which was indeed the night’s forecast.

Luckily we were able to call up another farmer and told him to have at it.

He ended up getting about 20 round bales from the quick pickup turning our misfortune into another’s gain.

And we were OK with that – just part of farming.


Don’t worry, make hay

I’ve heard from other farmers that are just getting their first cut in now that the hay quality is not going to be that great because of all the rain we had.

A long-time dairy farmer I know has a classic saying about that though.

He says “it’ll be better than feeding a snowball in winter,” also noting that even low quality hay “still makes a turd.”

I’ve also heard that he wears long johns year-round. The thinking here is that the extra insulation not only keeps you warm in Winter, but cool in the Summer.

Sounds like it makes sense. I have yet to try this out, but with the recent high heat and humidity, maybe I will.

I do know that long-time farmers (and experienced skilled tradesmen for that matter) have a lot of good ideas to share and it’s something I pay close attention to when offered.

I have already benefited from their wisdom in advice given on my farm projects.

Of course, they’ll tell you it’s not so much because their wise, but more because they’ve made so many mistakes!

So to all my fellow farmers and workers out there, I hope you too get to make hay and do good work while the sun shines!


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