by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA
Everyone seems to agree about the weather these days: the new normal is that there is no normal.
Despite last issue’s cantankerous ruminations about the ruinous effects of the damp weather on our hay crop, the barn is full of top quality forage after all, though it took three more weeks than it should in a so-called “normal” year.
The oats are threshed. The deer took to bedding down in the oat field this year and ruined close to 25% of an otherwise excellent crop. An important aspect of homegrown oats is the abundant straw that the crop produces. We blow the straw from the separator wind stacker directly into the barn loft, ready for use as bedding in the stalls below. I intend to grow more small grains in the future and am working up a new rotation which will involve bringing more old pasture-land into cultivation.
The hay tripods mentioned last issue that we experimented with didn’t work out so well. Friend Sykes (Humus and the Farmer) used some 2,000 of these on his British farm in the 1930’s, so the method certainly merits further experimentation, especially in those times when it seems we just can’t go more than two or three days without rain. Farmers in very wet climates around the globe have used similar drying techniques for centuries. Austrians and others have hung hay on wires to cure, while others have made small stacks around a single pole with air access from below.
We built our tripods from alder poles wired together. The wet hay was piled carefully on cross members, forkful on forkful until a moisture-shedding, eye-catching stack was completed. The cross members are wired at such a height that the lowest hay does not actually touch the ground. In this way air is free to circulate up through the center of the stack allowing the hay to slowly cure over time. By some accounts, because of the slow, moist cure, a form of microbial alchemy occurs by which the hay changes in beneficial ways that conventionally cured hay will not – like making sauerkraut out of grass, yet clearly distinct from silage because the process is aerobic rather than anaerobic.
In the end our four tripods did not cure the hay as hoped. We put the mown grass into stacks too soon and stacked the hay too thickly. I think at least one day of dry weather in the field and one pass with the tedder will be necessary. The density of the hay in the stack is also of vital importance. Ours was stacked too thickly to allow for good airflow. Aside from a few quality pockets, most of the hay in this first attempt at tri-podding was yellowed at best; molded and heated at worst.
Back to Basics
I have received some nice comments from folks about my earlier columns wherein I related the detailed workings of our barn set up and livestock management system. It got me to thinking about other kinds of very specific information people want and need. It seems to be true that the majority of young farmers just starting out in this current small farm revival do not come from a rural background at all. They clearly have a passion for farming and many feel an almost primal desire to learn the ancient practice of gaining sustenance from the soil. Despite their obvious enthusiasms, budding farmers springing from an urban background very often lack some of the most basic skills needed to get successfully through a typical season on the farm.