It was Thursday 13 December and stinking hot. Farmer Wan and I were making our first cut of hay in the orchard. Our orchard is approximately one quarter of an acre in size, which equates to 1,011.71 square metres or .101171 of a hectare. I’d just like to say that it feels a hell of a lot bigger than that when you’re cutting it with a scythe.
In order to forestall my breaking down and sobbing bitterly when contemplating the enormity of our task, I made up a song – a little scything, hay-making song – and sang it very loudly and off-key (on purpose, of course, for comic effect). It’s sung to the tune of We Are The World, a composition that was considered very worthy for all of about ten minutes, way back last century:
We are the world
We are the farmers
We are the people gonna grow your food
So you’d better not harm us
We are the world
We are the growers
So you’d better come to Muntanui
And get to know us
Farmer Wan came up with the last two lines, so we’re both to blame for the end result. As for the bit about growing everyone's food, well, I'll get back to you once I've managed to grow our own.
The hay crew (image courtesy of Cat Davidson)
After two days of scything, a further two days of diligent turning with a pitch-fork, and one could-have-been-but-wasn’t case of heat stroke, the weather turned. The hay was beautiful but still not dry enough to bale. Fortunately, we had help in the form of Clan Davidson, dear friends who were visiting from Scotland and Oz. They helped us rake the hay and stash it under the Biggest Tarp in the World. A few days later it was ready. But we weren’t. Not by a long shot.
The problem was, how to bale hay when you:
a) don’t have a baling machine
b) don’t have enough hay to interest a contractor
c) are trying to come up with solutions that don’t involve large amounts of fossil fuel and cash.
Solution Mark 1 was based around the idea of a wool press:
After four hours of very hot, scratchy and tiring work, we had 30 micro-bales – probably enough to feed our cattle for a week. Although we’re not afraid of hard work, we concluded that this method was just too labour-intensive and therefore, unsustainable.
We made the second hay cut at the end of January/early February. Solution Mark II to the baling problem was the Hay Sack, basically a great big bag stitched out of bird netting with a strong tie threaded through the top. It’s rodent-proof, it lets air circulate and it’s sort-of stackable.
Fun factor and sculptural qualities notwithstanding, we know our Hay Sacks aren’t really a solution either. They're not practical for the amount of hay our cows will need over winter.
We still think it’s worth the effort to cut as much hay as we can ourselves because the orchard stuff is the best grass we've got – weed-free and full of yummy clover. And it doesn't cost anything except time. But we always knew we'd have to get in more and, given that we were teetering on the verge of drought for eight weeks, we were worried that no-one would have any to spare, and if they did, that it would cost a fortune.
Enter the wonderful Gary and Kirsten from nearby Waireka Downs farm. They'd contacted one of our absentee neighbours about mowing his paddocks and asked us if we'd like some. So we now have 141 bales in our shed, it only cost us what it cost Gary to operate his equipment and we're set for winter ... we hope. And while the bovines are happily munching hay in the snow, we can plan how to increase our own hay cuts next year.
Posted by Farmer Nik
Huge thanks also to the Shaw family who transported Gary's hay to us and helped stack it.
About Ewan and Niki
Scottish mechanical engineer with a deep and abiding passion for good food. Outstanding cook. Builder of lots of stuff. Cattle whisperer. Connoisseur of beer. A lover rather than a fighter.
Kiwi writer and broadcaster who hates cabbage, even though she knows it's good for her. Chook wrangler. Grower of food and flowers. Maker of fine preserves. Lover of dancing and wine. Definitely a fighter.