It's that time of year again – hay-making. We used to have our own hay cut and baled – cue a week of hard work, culminating in baling and then stacking those bales in the barn. Then helping the neighbours stack theirs... and so on. Last year, we decided to buy the hay in, which worked well enough, nine trips back and forth in our trusty van, ten bales at a time.
Ninety bales was not enough, so this year we decided to buy a hundred and twenty. A quick phonecall to the guy from last year and... no hay. Summer 2014 was a fantastic year, but 2015 has been cold and wet, leaving hay in short supply. Our previous supplier is only doing round bales this year, because the quality of the grass is just not good enough for it to be worth doing the small, square bales which primarily serve horse-owners – horses and sheep can be fussy eaters when it comes to hay.
A few round bales would get us through the winter, no problem, if only we had the means to handle them. Depending on moisture content, they weigh in the region of half a ton, and we don't have the sort of lifting gear or a tractor to cope. You can buy a trailer, specially designed to work with the round bale, but there are problems. Firstly, the price-tag – not cheap. Secondly, all the pictures we have seen, show it on the level, on ground that stays level. We live on a hill, and I can just imagine driving across the slope and have the trailer tip.
After a lot of enquiries, we found a farm selling square-bale hay – collect direct from the field as they bale. As chance would have it, the farmer's brother runs the garage where we get our trusty van serviced – it's a small world out in the sticks. So, a hundred and twenty bales, ten at a time, stacked into the barn, in September. The month is important. Hay in June or July ought to be crispy-dry (unless the weather is really foul), but by September, with the shorter days, it is almost impossible to do anything other than hay with a high moisture content, and that means heavy bales.
We did it. One evening and then a whole day, driving back and forth, the last load after dark, all to be stacked properly on the following morning. No more than a few hours work, and done – stacked high and packed tight so that as the damp grass starts to ferment it gets hot, drives out the moisture and then stays good for the winter.
That was Friday. On Sunday, Piper, the newest feral tom to move into the house, was sleeping on the sofa. By mid-morning, when I went to check on the hay, Piper was on top of the warm stack, mewing at me because the food in the barn was not topped up. Just like last year.
The only differences this year are that when Piper subsequently comes in for a bit of lap-time, he brings the scent of fresh hay into the lounge, and when he is in the barn, he expects to be stroked before he eats, a bit of attention to remind the serving staff of their place.
He will still have your hand off, but now he's only playing....