This cutting of hay business can be quite stressful. This is our second year of closing up three large paddocks and cutting hay. Our first year, we were pretty clueless and the hay was cut a fraction too late (due to bad weather). This year, we decided to analyse the long range forecast and it seemed that December was going to have its fair share of rainy weather.

Here’s the thing. You can cut the hay, no dramas. But then it has to lie in the paddock soaking up the sunshine for a few days so it can dry out. If it’s rained on, well the locals will tell you to do one of two things – turn the hay over, fluff it up and let it dry out; or don’t turn the hay over and let it dry out.

But basically you want to avoid cutting the hay and having it drenched. So you need to be pretty good at forecasting the weather. If you bale up while the hay is still damp – watch out. Two things can happen. The first is that the hay will start to spoil in the field and grow mould. This creates toxins that can kill off horses. You’ll know if a bale is mouldy because there’s a metallic whiff. The second cautionary tale is that if you store the hay in your hay barn whilst it’s still damp, it can produce enough heat to start one heck of a barn fire.

The week before last, I kept hearing sirens going off every other day or so. When there’s an emergency in Oxford, a loud siren is blasted all over the community. I heard later that there were six hay barn fires, including one that had 2000 or more bales. Imagine that BBQ.

Weekend before last we thought we had about four days clear. But then I triple-checked and didn’t like the look of it. Nor did the two local farmers who were going to assist us. Someone told me that friends of theirs went ahead and dropped the hay that weekend, only to find rain hurling down as it was drying in the field.

So we waited. We’d actually closed the paddocks later than normal. In November. Because we felt that December would not be great weather and we’d be better off cutting the hay in January. Good call actually because the grass we dropped was fantastic  – full of red clover and leafy grass. We had none of the stalky grass from last year. We dropped it on Saturday and baled up Wednesday and Thursday. The hay had plenty of time to sunbake. So this year the bales are a sweet-smelling, lovely pale green colour with some bales being pale gold. This is good hay.

I think the difference this year was that we had different animals in the paddocks – horses, sheep, cows and goats. We decided to mix it up and get better at pasture management. The animals kept the twitch and dock (nasty vicious weeds) down to a minimum.

A lot of people came to help store the hay. That’s the thing about rural New Zealand. People you don’t even know turn up to help. A farmer came along and asked what he could do for us – we’d never even met him. But he rolled his sleeves up and started tossing bales of hay into the hay barn. And he was telling me that hay will be cheap this year – around NZ$5.00 or less per bale – and that’s because a lot of dropped hay was rained on. Well, at least this hay cutting business is over for another year.

Zeph and Zsa Zsa haven't been able to run in the paddocks since November. Naturally, they went crazy and ran like mad things.

The grass before it was cut.

Dropping the hay begins.

Stacking the hay.

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