The major task of spring, planting corn, is over so we've transitioned into the work of summer- making hay and keeping the weeds under control in the garden and fields. As it is just Dan and I putting up hay this year, after much thought and discussion we decided to make loose hay instead of hiring someone to help us bale it. Much of the process is the same-Dan uses the horses to mow the field, we pray for 3 days of clear weather and watch the hay dry, and then use a horsedrawn hayrake to pile the hay in the field into long windrows. At this point, we would have been dependent on someone else to come and operate the baler through the field and we would have taken the wagon out into the field to collect the bales. But I would have needed to drive the wagon and stack all the bales, while Dan would have been walking the field and throwing them onto the wagon. Then each bale would have been pulled off the wagon and stacked again in the hay mow in the barn. For those of you who've never picked up a bale, they usually weigh about 40-50 pounds each and we plan on making 1,000 or so to get us through the winter. Each bale must be handled twice, and that is a whole lot of weightlifting for just 2 people! So, after the hay is dry, we will rake it more than once, meaning instead of several small windrows across the field, we will have a few larger ones. Then I will drive the wagon alongside the windrow while Dan uses a hayfork (like a pitchfork, but with only 3 tines) to load it onto the wagon. My other job is to keep the horses from snacking on the new hay while they are working!
Once we have a good wagonload, we drive down to the barn and the wagon is backed up inside. Then we let the claw do the work for us! Up in the rafters, there is a track with a scary-loking contraption that operates in much the same way as the claw arcade games where you try to win a stuffed animal. The rope is lowered and the 4 prongs are pushed into the pile of hay on the wagon. There is a rope that runs through a series of pullies and is hooked to the horses. When they pull it, the rope lifts the claw and hundreds of pounds of hay clear up to the barn rafters. When it meets the track, it slides over to the side of the barn over top of where the hay will be stored. Then, when another rope is pulled, it triggers the release and the hay falls to the floor. The wagon is unloaded in minutes and with very little labor. It's an amazing piece of machinery to see in action, all the more so because it works flawlessly despite the fact it was installed when the barn was built- in 1894.
We already spent an afternoon putting up hay, it looks like so much, but as it's not compressed it probably equals out to about 75 bales or so. But it is beautiful hay and fills the barn with a delicate scent. We were so excited that the weather held up and we were able to cut the hay in its prime and have some in the barn on June 1! Today is the start of 3 days of anticipated clear weather, so we hope to be making lots of hay Saturday.
Last Sunday we had baby chicks born on the farm. While during the spring we usually hatch 50 or 60 chicks per week with our incubator, these were hatched by a hen. This is fairly unusual, many of the chickens used for eggs today have been selected over time to produce eggs all year round and not defend the nest when the farmer comes to collect the eggs. Because of this, most common breeds of chickens no longer know how to hatch babies: we've bred the mothering instinct out of them. We have a variety of breeds, about 12 different breeding flocks over the spring months, and each have thier own special qualities. The Phoenix roosters have long beautiful tails and the hens are more colorful than the average female bird. I noticed one hen sitting on eggs one day and guarding them fiercely from me, so I let her go. They lay smaller white eggs that I usually don't sell anyway, so I saw no harm in letting her give it a try. Then another hen joined her in the nest box and they sat out the 3 weeks it takes to hatch the eggs. All together, they hatched 12 little chicks and have protected them from the hungry barn cats for about a week now. It's pretty amazing to see. I'm keeping a close eye on my Giant Cochin hens, 3 of them are sharing a box right now, and I hope they have as much success as the Phoenix girls did!