The oxen, Henri and August, are less than impressed: their springtime hay is not of the finest quality. Having wintered in the corners of our barn, it is dried out or, alternatively, molding. Compared to the lushness available just beyond the hay trough, they are picking through with royal attitudes the arid flakes we attempt to feed them. The oxen know we count on them as our yard-trimmers and lawn-mowers – and the succulent grasses, clovers, and weeds are their meal of choice these days.
But just last week the call came: fresh hay has been cut.
Which means that all other plans must be orchestrated around the pick-up of this essential commodity. The trailer is hitched up to our old Ford, and ropes of all colors are thrown in the cab. There is an urgency to this task – we need as much as we are able to stack, and must do so before the rain descends.
Stacking bales is like a game of real life tetris, it is training in practical physics. One hundred bales or so is respectable; one hundred twenty-something is the record. Criss-crossed and counter-balanced, the hay is piled high above each vehicle. As the outer limit of stability is reached, rope is thrown about the pile, securing our treasured bales. Itchy and sweaty, the drive home reflects the stacker’s ability – if a bale falls it often means two or three or worse.
Back at the farm, the process begins in reverse. We have various storage buildings – the ox hovel loft, the Open-Sided shed (no-longer so open-sided), the quonset tent, the barn eves, and unused animal houses. The first hay of the season, however, gets the primo spot within the ox hovel loft.
The loading process is facilitated with a human-powered pulley. The loaded hay truck is backed beneath the loft doors. A pulley and ropes are hung from the chain at the loft entrance; a bale is hooked on one end. On the other, is one of us. At a signal from our counterpart, the person on the ground starts running. A thirty or forty foot sprint is usually sufficient to launch the bale up to the loft, where a third member of the hay stacking trio awaits it, unclips the bale, and stacks it neatly. This process repeats itself until, bale by bale, the hay is stored.
With clouds lingering in the sky throughout the day, it is with relief as well as an itchy sort of tiredness, that the last bale is tossed in place. Dry and protected, the first cut is in. We’ll repeat the process as often as we’re able over the next few months, stocking up for the ensuing year.
In the meantime, Henri and August gratefully devour the fine hay that now fills their trough.