As sun set in a kaleidescope of blazing colour over the valley this evening, we were exhaustedly thankful that both the big barn & the north end of the Dairy Complex had been bolstered with bale after bale of our sweet-smelling meadow hay. Once again Lloyd, our wonderful friend, neighbour & stalwart local farmer had rallied round & an army of friends & neighbours joined together to help us in our hour of ‘feed need’. As ever the much-admired former owner of the Ffarm – who was born on the premises (ahem) years ago, was at the helm of tractor & trailer; & even Franco, who has scant little time as it is, mucked in to lend a much-needed helping hand, for which we were extremely grateful.
Initially though, we weren’t sure the hay would actually come in, today. I was pretty confident: having carefully checked the fields each afternoon since they were cut last Thursday, I was happy that it’d been drying well the previous day; however Tony remained to be convinced. And as he wasn’t feeling too well, he remained in bed until almost midday….by which point Lloyd arrived to confirm we were ready to receive the hay, as he’d hired the baling contractor on our behalf but being very busy himself, had only a short time in which to gather the crop.
I was forced to haul Tony out of bed, which didn’t please him one little bit. However with so much work to be done I had little choice. The next few hours were a flurry of activity as old bales were discarded & the floor of both haybarn & Dairy Complex, cleared to receive the crop. When the awful realisation dawned that we didn’t have sufficient pallets on which to rest the bales (which keeps them off the damp ground & assists with clean airflow) Tony hurried off to Carmarthen to purloin some more from our supplier; whilst I continued the exhausting physical work inside the barn; raking, stacking & clearing barrowloads of discarded wisps of musty hay & hauling the heavy pallets into place.
And the excited horses & skittish Shetland ponies had to be temporarily transferred from the lush pasture of Parc Carreg Gwen & onto the close-grazed corner field of Parc Cam so that the hay trailers could come directly down to the farm rather than via the circuitous road route – no easy task….
However having persuaded our errant equines to take their supper on a ‘fresh’ field, I was hailed by Lloyd to inspect the bales as the massive machinery chugged past, throwing them out as it went. Lloyd had thoughtfully asked the contractor to bale them at a size of six rather than eight foot long, so that they’d be easier for me to manage single-handedly, when I have to. We discussed the merits (& otherwise) of wrapping the bales. If we were to wrap them for haylage (essentially, lightly pickled grass) they could be left outside; also they’d be more likely to produce a decent, edible crop. However as we didn’t have access to a bale grab for square bales they’d have to be picked up using a large metal spike; which would puncture the wrap & so could spoil the crop with mould. Also there is the eternal question of how to dispose of the redundant wrap; & to coat the number of bales we’d made, would probably cost at least £400. So not an ideal choice!
But the question remained – would the unwrapped bales make decent hay? We inspected a freshly-made bale, digging into it to check how it smelt. A sweet scent is a good sign; any mustiness, & the crop will ruin. When I’d checked it in the field the day before I’d been pleasantly surprised at how good it appeared to be – it had dried well considering the shorter days, relative lack of heat & dew-soaked mornings. Now as I breathed in deeply, the familiar scent of marzipan – which these days I associate with summer rather than the festive season – greeted my anxious nostrils: ahhhh. Just what I’d hoped for….sweet, fresh, lovely. There wasn’t a trace of the musty, mushroomy unpleasantess which spells disaster for the crop.
However a portent of potential doom, was that it was cool to the touch; hay should ideally be brought in warm, enhancing the drying process once it is safely stacked in the barn. So although the signs are reasonable, we’re by no means ‘out of the woods’ yet, so to speak. Lloyd expressed cautious confidence that the majority of the hay should be pretty decent; however we’d probably lose at least 5-15% of the crop. But I’d rather lose a bit than not have any at all….
As it was, to be on the safe side, we’d opted not to bale the outermost row of each field in order to prevent spoilage; the outermost row being adjacent to the high, thick hedgerows & therefore unlikely to get much sun hence carrying more spoiling moisture. When we make hay on the smaller fields closer to the ffarm I tend to give these rows an extra turn, by hand, each evening; however the acreage on the top fields would be far too much to manage single-handedly without machinery, I’d literally be there all day when the right machinery can do it in a matter of minutes.
I hurried back down to the haybarn just as Tony returned from Carmarthen with the pallets. At that moment the first hay wagon started trundling down the fields – so there was a last flurry of activity on our part to make ready to receive them. Normally we’d make smaller square bales which need to be manhandled into place; this year offloading them should be far quicker. However with the steep slope to the barn it proved far more tricky than it first appeared; & it took some very delicate manoeuvring of the Manitou to complete the task. So there are some radical changes required, for next year…!
Whilst Tony, Ieuan, Franco & Lloyd worked together in the barn I hurried into the house to prepare refreshments. As it was undecided whether there’d be time for a meal I laid a small table by the old stone wall of the Long Barn, loading it with (amongst other things) jugs of lemonade, cider & beer; along with snacks to keep the workforce from going hungry. I buttered bread, sliced ham, cut cheese; jars of tangy pickle were retrieved from the pantry; a hearty apple pie was baked; & ice cream prepared.
However by the time the three trailerloads of big bales had been stacked into our barns the prospect of a meal had to be shelved; everyone was running late & as it was five o’clock in the afternoon there were still several other farms urgently requiring bales to be wrapped & stacked before nightfall, & the days are getting alarmingly shorter. As we couldn’t be of service owing to the machinery required we bid farewell to our friends & got on with the evening milking. There was only one slight technical hitch….
….in the race to get the hay bales safely into the north end of the Dairy Complex, nobody had thought to move the feed bins clear of the stack – it took a far bit of gymnastics to get to the feed, I can tell you, especially as there’s still so much in the way of tools, pipework, sacks of cement etc lying around as we apply the finishing touches to the Dairy Complex!
I was certainly ready for the abandoned feast which awaited us at the end of this long, hard but worthwhile day – followed by a good night’s sleep as summer’s chapter closed for our little Ffarm.