A Little Bit Western


The Green Green Grass of Home

Jul 27, 2015

I love haying season. I love the smell of hay, the anticipation of walking up to a swath to see if it’s dry, and the sound of a baler whirring across a field, provided the sound is indeed a whir and not a clank. I suspect most ranchers love seeing hay bales dotting a field because they know that in just a few short months, they’ll feed those very bales to their hungry cows when the weather is a brisk -40C.

I suppose one could learn how to make hay from books, or by researching information on-line. The topic was probably covered extensively during one of my 8:30am classes back in college, but I can’t tell you for sure. You could attend a workshop to learn about the best method for cutting your crop, letting it cure to an appropriate moisture level and baling it at precisely the right time.

Luckily, I just learned about haying from my dad.

As long as I can remember, haying was an exciting time in our household. In the early days, Dad made square bales, but when I was still pretty little, he and I picked up a New Holland round baler from Mankota Trading and slowly towed it home, anxious to put it to use. We logged a lot of hours together in the field that summer and for many summers after that – cut, bale, repeat. I learned how to listen to the way the swath rustled so you could tell if the hay was cured. Dad taught me about the pros and cons of conditioned versus swathed hay and how and when to feed test. We would watch seagulls swoop down to eat the grasshoppers and the hawks dive down to eat mice as we baled the swaths. We observed watchful does who would usher their fawns to the next strip away from us as we cut.

In Dad’s mind, there was nothing worse than having rain fall on a swath that was curing. Mom and Dad would obsessively follow the weather on the American Weather Channel, as that was deemed to be the most accurate at the time, looking for signs of impending thundershowers. Notes were made about humidity levels and the length of time it was taking for the hay to dry and Dad would assess the situation and cut a very specific amount of the crop to reduce the chance of having rain fall on it. I should probably mention that while I don’t like to have swaths rained on to this day, I don’t exactly go to the same lengths that Dad did to avoid it.

Dad enjoyed making hay, selling hay, and calculating (down to the penny) how much each bale cost to make. Dad loved to talk about hay too. This became problematic when I would drive four hours home from school to visit my Other Half. He would arrive to pick me up for a date only to end up engaged in an enthralling discussion about hay with Dad for a couple hours. Neither seemed to notice (or more truthfully care) that this was interfering with my date night.

This is our first haying season without Dad, but he hasn’t been far from my mind. He no doubt would have some choice words to say regarding the low yields and the sporadic showers that produced just enough precipitation to stop us from our field work but not quite enough to measure in a rain gauge. Conversely, an as experienced hay seller and exporter, Dad would be dancing a jig about the record-setting hay prices across the province and beyond.

My son and I were baling one day, and as we went up and down the swaths, we talked about Grandpa, reminisced and shared stories. We also talked about when to cut and how to tell if the hay was ready to bale and we talked about how this years’ crop is slim pickings. My son watched the hawks and gulls circle overhead and land nearby, searching for their prey. We spied a coyote and kept our eyes open for ducks in the swale.

I’m not always ready for life when it comes full circle.

After a while, my little boy went home and I kept on baling. But I wasn’t alone. Out in that field, bale after bale, someone somewhere was riding along with me.

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