Race to the end of the paddock
When it was all over my wife said, "Can you remember a year where we didn't have to rush to get the hay in before it rains? I can't. It's the same every year!"
It's true. It's a stressful time of year, reliably so.
But for different reasons each year. This year we had a lot of spring rain. Every few days it rained, quite a bit overall. Which is mostly a good thing. For example, olive growing wisdom is that the year after a bumper harvest is an off year…low yields, low volumes. But with all the rain our olive trees appear to be gearing up for another big year, and are absolutely loaded with blossom.
On the downside, the hot and humid conditions encourage mildew diseases, and we have a lot more Peacock Spot in our olive trees than normal. It can be a serious problem, but I am optimistic that we'll have enough hot baking days in later summer to dry the Peacock Spot out.
But in terms of hay baling it’s a problem. For most of November there hasn't been enough rain-free and hot days to successfully cut and dry the hay. So no one's hay gets cut, and the queue of people waiting for their hay contractors to appear gets longer and longer.
I had actually given up. My grasses peaked in November, and my paddocks are starting to yellow and drop their seed. I figured I would get it cut whatever happens, and then if the weather turned on us again just let it rot back into the paddock. It would leave me short over winter for feed, but I can buy that if I have to.
But, miraculously, a few clear days arrived. Damian the hay-cutter showed up and went straight to work. I went and said hello, but he was polite and kept going. He raced around my place at high speed and was gone, flogging himself and his machinery in what must have been a long, long day.
Three days later he was back, fluffed it all up to dry the bottom layers out, then raked it into rows for the baling crew. Again, all on fast forward.
And then the stressful wait. Rain predicted from the afternoon on. At 6:30 the hay balers arrived and clunked around the paddock. We kept out of their way until there was room to move and started collating bales into small groups for easier pickup. As a hobby farm we don't have equipment like hay collectors that drag bales into sets, its all manually picking them up and carrying 10 metres to the next one. And then we started driving round with a trailer and loading up, drag the trailer to the shed and stack the hay in the shed.
Did I mentioned it was just the two of us? I had talked to some extra hands but for different (legitimate!) reasons they all fell through, so it was us two or no one.
A catastrophic storm was on the BOM radar map, heading our way, so we kept going until 10:30pm. By then I had had it, we'd stacked some 200 bales. When I say "stacked" I mean in a tower 10 bales high. They get up the top by me climbing up there hauling up the next bale.
While my wife wrapped the remaining piles with tarps I did another couple of trailer loads. At the start we were stacking 12 in our little trailer. By the end I was stacking them 16 to the load. (We do have a big trailer, but it only clears the shed doors by a couple of centimetres, and the hay baling job isn't one of finessed driving. The shed and the trailer bear the marks of previous failures!)
When the rain came down it was a downpour. I had forgotten there were a few bales in the laneway, and when I collected them the next day they were heavy and sodden. I'll see if I can dry them out but I expect they are destined for compost. But it made me glad that we had driven ourselves so hard to get the majority of the bales under cover, and they were nice and dry.
So, with all the rain, the pasture improvement we have been doing, our paddocks are getting better and we collected 310 bales this year. In a bad year we took 110, and our previous record was 270, so I am happy with that.
There's still room to improve though. My neighbor took 525 bales from a smaller paddock than ours. He's an old-school farmer, and knows what he is doing!
But think about this…310 bales, each weighs around 20 kg.
Between the two of us we lifted, carried, stacked and restacked some 6000 kg of hay…..The mind boggles!