Anyone who has ever owned livestock knows that a lot of time and decision making is spent on hay. I know that sounds silly. After all, hay is just dried grass. How hard can that be?
I’m here to tell you it is in fact very difficult. Imagine having to go food shopping for all your winter food in a 3-5 day time period. That will give you a glimpse of what it is like to get hay for an entire herd of dairy goats.
You have to answers questions such as – How much hay? What kind of hay? What size bale of hay? Where will I store it? How will I keep it? Is it moldy? Does it have poisonous weeds in it? When will the grass start growing in the spring?
And those are only if you’re buying the hay.
If you’re trying to make your own hay, then you’ve got to deal with even more questions such as – Do I have the right equipment to bale the hay? Is my equipment going to break? How is the fertility of my soil? Is the grass at the proper stage to be cut? And most importantly, what is the weather?
Remember the old saying, “Make hay while the sun shines”?
You have no idea how important that is unless you’ve actually dealt with baling hay. During hay season, all eyes are on the weather and the calendar because hay takes all your time over several days so you need a stretch of no rain that correlates to a stretch where you can spend all your time on the hay.
In my busy life, that’s not an easy combination to find. And if you can’t find it, your grasses can go past the peak time and start to lose nutrition, which impacts the health of your animals.
Late last week, the hay field looked ready to be baled and the weather was forecasted to have 7 sunny days in a row, so the decision was made to cut the hay on Sunday.
Baling hay involves all these steps:
Seems pretty straight forward, right?
You have to remember that you can’t work with hay at all when there is dew on it. The hay has to be completely dry. If it is very humid out, it can take several days for the hay to dry. You can use a tedder to “fluff” the hay up and get the bottom stuff to the top so it dries faster. But every pass over the field takes more time and more fuel so that the cost of your hay keeps rising.
But you do it if you have to, because the worst thing you can do is bale or store wet hay. Wet hay bales can compost and generate enough heat to start a fire and burn down your entire barn–with all your animals in it.
That would be bad. Very, very bad.
So when Mason cut the hay on Sunday, it all looked good to bale the hay on Wednesday. But come Monday morning, the forecast had changed, and rain had moved from Friday up til Wednesday. So the decision to ted the hay again was made to help it dry faster and the hay baling date was moved to Tuesday.
Monday, the hay was raked into rows.
Tuesday morning, everyone was set to bale hay. They would start baling in earnest at 1 pm, when everything was completely dry and work til about 9 pm, when the dew would be back on the field. They were anticipating anywhere between 1500 and 2500 hay bales.
Side note: we’d never stored this much hay before, so our contractor came in and reinforced our hay loft and barn so it wouldn’t collapse from the weight of the hay.
The forecast was for partly cloudy all day.
Baling commenced at about 1:00 when everything was completely dry. Immediately the baler started breaking.
This is a very common part of farming. Sometimes it seems that farmers spend more time fixing and maintaining their equipment than they actually do using it.
So they would bale several bales and then it would break. They’d fix it and bale a few more and it would break again. After a trip to the hardware store they installed stronger shear pins (I have no idea if that’s how you spell that but it was what the boys were telling me) and the baling proceeded faster.
But by this point, the clouds were getting darker and the forecast changed again to 30% chance of showers.
Around 3 pm we had a light sprinkling of big, fat rain drops. Bummer, but not a big deal.
And then, around 6 pm, the clouds opened up and it started down pouring. And it continued down pouring for at least 30 minutes. They got the load of hay that was being rained on into the hayloft. Then somebody went to the store and bought salt and they had to put salt onto the hay to help pull the moisture out so it wouldn’t compost and catch fire later on in the winter.
Another 50 bales or so were left out in the rain. I’m not sure what they’re planning to do with those. They’re too wet to go into the hayloft even if they are salted.
All told, they got somewhere around 800 – 850 bales into the hayloft.
So what about the rest of the hay? It’s still out in the field. Mason is going to do his best to keep tedding it and getting it to dry out enough so it can be baled into round bales that he will feed to his cows. The round bales are not stored in a hayloft the way our square bales are, so there is not a big concern about fire.
But the rain is expected to continue all week, so he’s not sure if he’ll be able to do even that.
You can imagine that yesterday was a bit frustrating for all of us. As I lay in bed trying to sleep, I spent a lot of time thinking about how frustrating it was, and the lessons that I’ve shared with my children over the years on how to handle that type of frustration.
This is what I kept reminding myself:
Don’t second guess the decision. We are all forced to make decisions throughout each and every day. Sometimes we will make good decisions, and sometimes hindsight will show that we made poor decisions. But once the decision has been made, and if it can’t be undone, don’t second guess whether you made the right decision or not. That just wastes a lot of emotional energy.
Accept that you made the decision with what information was available. As you’re trying not to second guess your decision (you know we all do it to some extent), recognize that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect information. You can only do the best with the information you have. You can’t predict that a forecast of 7 straight sunny days will turn into 2 sunny days with lots of rain. With 7 days of sun, we knew we had a buffer. We made the right decision with the information we had available to us.
Don’t beat yourself up. I think this is the hardest. Even if you don’t second guess the decision, and know that you made a good decision based on the information available to you, many of us still beat ourselves up because it turned out to be the wrong decision. Don’t do this. You are not a perfect person and you never will be. We all do the best we can.
Move on. Instead of dwelling on the decision and the poor outcome that you didn’t want, you need to put the decision in the past and move on to what you’re going to do going forward. There are still plenty of other decisions for you to make.
Put it in perspective. Often we can take a frustrating event and really blow the significance out of proportion. If we take a moment to put it into perspective, we can see that (for most frustrating events) this is not a life changing event. It’s a minor frustration in the journey of life.
Look for the good side. Good can be found in almost any situation. In this event, we have 800+ bales stored for winter feeding. No, it’s not what we should have had, but it’s more than I had yesterday morning.
Learn from it. Is there something to be learned from the decision that can help you make a better decision next time? Probably not in this case (other than to have better shear pins on hand), but often times there are valuable lessons that can be learned.
Make the choice. Life is full of frustrating events. That’s a fact. But what is important is not that they happen, but how we choose to react to them. Because how we react is a choice. We can choose to be miserable because of the frustration (and make everyone else around us miserable), or we can accept that things don’t always turn out the way we want them to and move on.
Teach your children. Remember that your children are watching you. You can use anything as a teachable moment, including your frustrations. So many people get bogged down in the negative moments in life instead of accepting them, learning from them, and moving on. Be careful to reinforce positive responses around your children.
And so I’ve moved on. It was a huge bummer that I got less than half the hay I was expecting. The change in the weather forecast was a big, extra expense. But bottom line, it’s only money. I can’t change the decision. I can’t change the weather. I can’t change how many bales I got.
But I can focus on the fact that nobody got hurt. That’s what is really important. There were no tractor accidents, no hay equipment accidents, no broken legs from falling off the hay wagon or out of the barn.
And if I focus on that, it puts it all back into perspective.
And as a reminder, after the downpour, God sent a rainbow to remind me of His love and what really matters.