As promised, I am attempting to get caught up with life at Whitefish Bay Farm. My previous entry covered the early portion of August. For convenience I will jump over late August and early September. I promise to return later with tales of daring Viking sailing voyages. But for the time being let’s get haying in 2017 finally out of the way!
By mid August we had only managed to get about 725 small bales made without them being ruined by unexpected rains. That number, plus the amount still unused from 2016 left us at least 2000 bales short of what we figured was necessary to get us safely through the winter and spring of 2018. Time was fast running out. Finally, a window of opportunity presented itself. With a forecast for at least 5 days of sun (and no rain) I cut the entire 5 acres of pasture #3. Normally we graze #3, but the grass growth was so rapid that we bypassed that field in the hopes that I could bale it instead. I figured that this field alone would yield 500 to 600 bales. After two days of drying it got rained upon, not enough to ruin the hay, but enough to extend the necessary drying time. After another two dry days we were clobbered with 1.3 inches of rain. All of what was undoubtedly the best hay I had seen all year was rendered useless.
I had a trip scheduled and planned for less than a week later and still about 25 acres of uncut hay. In final desperation, we made arrangements with a neighboring farmer to cut and bale those 25 acres if the weather allowed sometime in the 2 weeks of my absence. He had a large haybine, with rotary cutters, which would make faster work of what was becoming a tangled mess of down hay. In addition he had a large round baler, which, if the conditions allowed, would mean that the entire field could be baled in a day. All we needed was a successful window of opportunity.
I departed the country and Gretchen and Tom (our neighbor) watched the weather. In a fortuitous period in late August Tom got the field cut, dried and baled. As soon as the bales were made, it began again to rain. At least the bales’ structure would allow some rain before major damage would occur to them. So here they are, 141 large round bales, each weighing about 800 pounds.
Upon my return on the 6th of September, we were now faced with how we should handle the bales. Cut this late in the season, their nutritional value would not be great, but they would certainly provide enough hay for the flock until next year. Our problem was that we are not set up to store and feed large round bales. Our barn was build before any type of baled hay was used. It is not set up for storing these monsters. In addition, the areas in which the sheep spend much of the winter (the lower level of the barn) lack doorways large enough to bring a bale inside. The ceiling clearance is so low that, even if we could get a bale inside, we could not flip it on its side to get it placed in a round bale feeder. There was enough clearance to get a number of round bales into the addition that we had built for the barn in 1998. We re-arranged the ram’s pen in the addition so there was space to get bales in next to them. (It should be noted that the rams are not happy with the arrangement, but they are making do with it!) We managed to get 16 bales into this space and still leave enough space to be able to take them apart. The routine for the entire late fall and all winter and spring will be for the two of us to manually unroll one large bale at a time and tear the rolls into small enough portions that we can carry those portions into the old barn and fill 14 small feeders. Neither of us look forward to that prospect!
Here is how the bales move from the field to storage. The smaller of our two tractors is fitted with a removable bale spear. I can load 6 bales on a wagon which I then drive down the hill (to our new access road). Once next to the barn each bale is moved inside. We managed to fit another 22 bales into our machine shed (on top of three of our hay wagons). With this arrangement all of our equipment can still be stored out of the elements especially during the winter.
Being very cautious, we calculated that we would need a total of between 64 and 68 bales to safely see us through the next three seasons. Doing the math, that meant that we still needed to store another 30 bales. We invested in used wooden pallets and two heavy duty tarps. The final 30 bales are now lined up next to the machine shed as protected as we can make them. We will feed them first, leaving the bales that are under-roof until last, since they will be better protected.
That leaves us with an additional 73 bales. As of this week I have all the bales removed from the hay field. The remaining 73 are lined up, end to end just off the edge of the field. It would be nice to be able to sell them, but the prospect, this late in the year is not good. We also are making an attempt to donate them to farms struck by the extreme drought in the Dakota and Montana. Unfortunately there does not seem to be a major, coordinated effort to move hay from Wisconsin in that direction. (The key missing element in this picture is the donation of semi-trailer trucking to handle the transport.) If there is anyone reading this who desperately needs hay or who knows of someone in such need, and you can arrange trucking, the hay is yours. We would truly be saddened if that much hay slowly rots away without any takers. One final note: It is very obvious, looking at the above image that the grass is still growing vigorously! It is difficult to believe that this field was cut less than two weeks before this picture was taken.