The Dairy Farm Adventures: Wild Weather

Posted Tuesday, December 10, 2013 in Features

The Dairy Farm Adventures: Wild Weather

by Lee-Rae Jordan-Oliver

In early June, my dog, Blackie, and I were inside the horse barn when the skies opened and dumped hail the size of quarters.   My horse, Jazz, content to eat the hay I'd given her, appeared oblivious to the hail pelting against the metal roof which filled our ears with a deafening roar.  Lightning split open the sky followed quickly by explosions of thunder.  Blackie trembled with terror and looked up at me as if to say, “Now what do we do?”  I desperately wanted to return to the house where our two young sons, Walker, and Wyatt, waited for me.  My husband Matthew, and daughter Anna, had driven to town before the storm descended upon Westford Hill.

Just five hundred feet away, our house was barely visible through the sheets of hail and rain.  As soon as the roar on the roof lessened, I hollered to Blackie, “Let's go!” and made a daring dash to the house.  Running uphill through the sloppy field felt like I was moving in slow motion with bricks glued to my feet.  I prayed lightning wouldn't strike us.  In less than a minute, the dog and I burst through the garage door  muddy and soaked to the bone where Walker and Wyatt greeted us. 

During this storm, lightning struck and killed four of our neighbor's farm animals, including their beloved family milk cow they had owned for twelve years.  Nature's unforgiving elements can be  devastating and humbling to farmers.   The weather has always been a  farmer's “wild card” that can not be controlled.  Miraculously, farmers find ways to adapt to nature's never ending obstacles in order to survive. 

This summer, which brought more rain than sun,  proved especially challenging to farmers who needed  hay for their animals.  Summers on our farm revolve around milking the cows and producing the hay needed to feed over one hundred animals which include cows, heifers, bulls, and calves.  From October through until May, we feed our cows large round bales of “haylage” and dry hay.  We need roughly 1, 500 large round bales and 2,000 square bales to feed our bovines for seven months.  If we run out of feed in the spring, it costs $1,500 a week to feed our herd.  Hence, we are extremely motivated to bale hay for the cold months ahead.

Sunny, dry weather for several consecutive days makes ideal haying weather, but this summer farmers constantly dodged the threat of rain and thunderstorms.   Matthew and Luke, our dependable and hard-working farm employee, cut, baled, and wrapped, every chance they saw a break in the weather.  They were lucky to have two days in a row to work in the fields without dark clouds looming overhead.   Putting up round bales requires a tractor to haul the mower to cut the hay, a tractor to haul the round baler, and a wrapping machine to cover the bales with plastic to preserve them.  This process can easily be managed by two people.

However, putting up square bales requires more physical effort on the part of the farmer.  The weather dictates when square baling begins and ends.   The forecast should be perfect for at least three days in a row with no rain, sprinkles, or dew in sight. The first day the hay is cut and left to dry in the sun.  The second day the hay is turned over with a rake to make sure all the hay is completely dry.  If the hay is bone dry by the third day, it can be baled, loaded, and hauled to the farm where it's unloaded into the barn.  If it showers while the hay should be drying, the farmer has to begin the drying and raking process all over again while realizing the final product will be lower in quality.   With no time or effort to spare, farmers become very frustrated when the weather doesn't cooperate.   

In August, we were fortunate to have a few stretches of sunny, hot weather, perfect for making dry square bales.   We were pleased to have a motivated team of young people to help us load a barn full of hay.   A field decorated with hundreds of square bales can be cleared quickly when there is one person who drives the truck while two people pitch hay up to a person who stacks it onto the truck's flat bed body. 

One balmy August night, we worked by headlights trying to clear a field before the next day's rain.   A full moon hung in the evening sky like a giant, silver ornament.  Driving the hay truck through the field while the crew picked up bales, I spotted the fluorescent white back of a skunk waddling between the hay rows.  Knowing a startled skunk could ruin several bales with one spray, I steered the truck in a different direction.  Relieved to have skirted an odiforous disaster, I chugged along in the truck, savoring a piece of milk chocolate and breathing in the smell of fresh hay mingled with the scents of a summer night.  Farmers have a soft spot in their hearts for nature's gentler side.  This allows them to forgive the weather's past adversities and move forward.    

At the end of a long, hot day, a farmer never complains about the chaff caked to every nook and cranny of their body's anatomy.  They're just grateful the wild weather was tame enough to allow them to bale hay for another day.   

blog comments powered by Disqus