|title||"Reflections: My Life as a Hay Farmer"|
|body||"Those who know me are surprised to find my past has any relationship to the title of this post. @roleerob was a farmer? Who knew? Well, haven't we all experienced that at some point in our past? Being surprised, once you get to know someone, there is more to them than you might think?|
Capturing some highlights of that time in my life is the subject of this post.
Wishing to protect my privacy in general, I won't get into too much personal detail about the particulars of why, in the summer of 2011, I found myself faced with the challenge of caring for a 50-acre hay farm. One that I didn't live anywhere near. In fact, it was in a different state from where I lived. To keep it going required about a 4-hour commute each way.
Thankfully, at the time, I worked a 4-10 schedule, so every Thursday evening, I'd set off with my sons, getting back on Sunday evening. Go to my "day job" the next morning. Repeat with enthusiasm from early April through to early October.
Our personal circumstances required me to do this for two seasons - 2011 and 2012. While I won't get into my age, let's just leave it at I was not a young man in his prime ... 😉
What follows is the story of the 2011 season.
# Getting Started
As an engineer by profession, starting into this new "adventure" I foolishly and naively thought (trying to encourage myself I suppose in the face of the daunting task ...) *"how hard can this be?"* I was about to find out.
As part of the answer, later on that summer, while working with another young man (born and raised on a farm nearby) in the area helping us out with a particular repair which was needed, he said something which I will always remember from that time:
> *"Farming is __honest__ work. You just can't cheat it!"*
By then, I realized how true this simple statement was. While I had always had a healthy respect for farmers, those two years took my respect to another level.
The fundamentals of hay farming are relatively basic. In the area we were farming, irrigation is just a way of life. So, every morning and every evening, i.e. on 12-hour "sets" we'd go out into the fields and get all the piping moved. On our farm, we had a combination of what are referred to as "wheel lines" and "hand lines." With the terrain, we could water roughly half the property with each of the two types of lines.
Moving the wheels lines simply involved starting up a gasoline powered engine, which would then turn large wheels up and down the field and move the sprinklers either forward or backward, as needed. The hand lines were what their name suggests. Moving them required breaking them apart into their individual sections, carrying them to the next location and linking them back together.
Guess which one we preferred? 😉
One key decision Dad made (that would be me ...), when the boys wanted to drive the 3-wheeler all around the farm was "no, we'll walk. It will be good for us." Once the first few days of grumbling subsided, we all agreed it was one of the best parts of our farming experience. Walking all over the property in the mornings and evenings, soaking up the glorious mountain air!
[Image view: A __*slow*__ start to the season, when you are farming at over 7,000 ft. The date is May 20th. The snow is still down low and that is elk still out in the field!]
2011 was a particularly "late" year for the region in which the farm was located. Specifically, how long the snow stayed low on the surrounding foothills, as seen above. Nonetheless, watering was still very important to maximize the yield.
[Image view: Did I mention a __*slow*__ start to the season? The date is June 3rd. Going out to take care of the morning irrigation rotation, that is ice!]
Our fields were a combination of grass and alfalfa. You would know when it was time to begin cutting the hay, when the blooms on the alfalfa reached a certain point. This was one of the many aspects of this type of farming I never really got very good at. It was relatively simple, though, to just start cutting when the farmers around us did ... 😊
[Image view: In late June, the first cutting was underway!]
We had two tractors - older John Deere tractors. The larger one was only used to pull the swather, as it required the most horsepower. Revved up and kept at a constant speed, this tractor handled the load very well. If the hay was sufficiently dry ...
In 2011, that was a problem, as it rained far more than was normal for that country. And, so, being a "rookie," I found out the hard way about cutting the hay when it wasn't sufficiently dry. The result was a much increased incidence of the swather getting bound up and work would grind to a halt. In time, I got better at this aspect of timing the work, but paid a heavy price early on.
There were instances where it literally took me two hours of steady grinding work to cut the green alfalfa out of all the machinery to get it moving again. With the tremendous horsepower of these large tractors, it took a __*lot*__ to bring them to a grinding halt. The resulting pressure of the plants into the machinery was incredible. I had not yet learned you need to stop __*very*__ soon after realizing it *might* be starting to bind up ...
[Image view: Independence Day, July 4th, still working on the first cutting. Raking after a rain storm ...]
Once the hay is cut down into what are called "windrows," it is simply a matter of letting the sun dry it out to the right amount of dryness. And then run the baler over it, which picks it up and binds it in bales for stacking. Piece of cake, right? What could go wrong?
Well, key phrase above is "letting the sun dry it out." That requires the sun to be out. Cloudy days would prolong the wait. If the clouds produced rain, the hay would rot before it ever dried out. That would never work.
So ... After a certain point, you had to run the rake over the windrows, to turn them underside up to the sun (once it came out ...). This was costly. Both time and additional fuel. And no matter how tenderly you attempted to do this, leaves from the alfalfa would fall off, lowering the nutritional value of the crop ... And, therefore, the amount customers were willing to pay for it ...
[Image view: Final stages of getting the first cutting picked up off the fields.]
A key was ensuring the hay was sufficiently dry, before baling. If was __*not*__, then binding it all together in the bale would still result in the hay rotting. Learned a __*lot*__ about this particular aspect of hay farming in 2011.
The one bright spot? Figuring, particularly with the especially damaged 1st cutting, that it was nearly worthless turned out to be wrong. There were always customers willing to buy the hay in pretty much any condition. The only question was the price. We lost about 40% of the value of our first cutting due to rain damage, but at least we got something for our efforts.
[Image view: In early August, the 2nd cutting begins. Water twice daily. Cut. Bale. Pick up and stack. Repeat with enthusiasm!]
The 2nd cutting was an opportunity to find out how much we'd learned from the 1st one. Well, we definitely did better, but the learning curve was still quite steep. Thankfully, while there were still problems with rain, it wasn't nearly as serious as with the 1st cutting.
[Image view: In our "spare time," keep the orchard going!]
Oh, yes, did I mention that once the haying chores were done for the day, we still had a yard and orchard to care for? Never a lack of things to do on a farm. If you ever think you're through working, well you probably don't really know what you are doing ...
[Image view: Finishing the 3rd cutting in late September. The thrill of victory!]
The highlight of the season was the 3rd cutting. While temperatures had dropped considerably at that elevation, the sun was out for all the time we needed to cut, bale, and stack. I was very thankful to end the season with experiencing putting together some very nice and tight, dry bales of hay, for which customers were willing to pay a premium price. Almost pure alfalfa at that point, we got some "rave reviews" particularly from the horse breeders who prefer it.
[Image view: Collapsed 3rd cutting stack. The agony of defeat!]
Just to ensure we were kept sufficiently humble, the picture above shows the disastrous results of attempting to stack this 3rd cutting. Operator error on the tractor ... 😞
The result was we had to get this all cleaned up and restacked by hand. On average, our bales weighed about 75 lbs. Throwing them around definitely gave us a serious work out.
A highlight of the memory of that summer? A keen observer will note the nice green color of the 3rd cutting bales on the left of the picture above. And the "golden brown" color of the bales from the earlier cuttings on the right. I joked with the boys about who would want to pay for "that yucky green stuff," when they could have the nice "golden brown" stuff instead.
Well, there was only one problem with that, which by then we'd learned. The brown hay was due to the rain damage. The nice green bales were what our customers wanted and for which they would pay top dollar.
We all had a good laugh. We'll never forget that first summer. The older of my sons used the money he earned to buy a coveted old Camaro. He has it to this day and still says he will never sell it ...
[Image view: What is the point? Oh now I remember ... Trading that green stuff in the picture above for this green stuff!]
While a little tongue-in-cheek here, I mention the money earned, I learned a valuable lesson. There was no possible way that the money we earned was from any sort of a "profitable enterprise." What is does do is pay the bills, some spending money for the children, taxes for the property, and maybe a little left over for next season's annual water bill.
My wages? Well, hey, I was on __*vacation!!*__
Many people today who live this way, do not do it for the money. To make money at it requires much larger tractors, sections of land, etc. No, it is simply a wonderful way of life. With a lot of good, clean, honest work behind it.
My sons and I will always cherish our memories of those two summers. Historically, sons could work in the fields with their fathers and learn what it means to work, get through the challenges of life, etc. That time is long past for most of us.
For a brief time, I was able to live a little bit of that lifestyle again. Neither my sons or I will ever forget it.
Making their living by farming was the primary lifestyle of our forefathers going back to the beginning of time. I am thankful and count myself blessed to have experienced some of what it takes for a brief period of my life.
I hope you enjoyed this personal reflection and found something of interest in it. I'd love to receive any comments you might wish to make.
All the best to you for a better tomorrow, as we all work together to build our Steem Community! 👍 😊
Posted using [Busy.org](https://busy.org/i/@roleerob) and *"immutably enshrined in the blockchain”* on Monday, 3 September 2018!
<p><center><img src="https://steemitimages.com/DQmZUZfsi6RST4zM3NrERtKZv12uwXMLoWsbvVgpKRyGP6D/divider%20123.png" alt="divider 123.png" /></center></p>
<p><center><img src="https://steemitimages.com/DQmc2H3Lgvc1aWLMBBeokhh3AkjrLpjDqsB49SqVYB7nXAy/steemdivider.png" alt="steemdivider.png" /></center></p>
##### If you enjoyed this post, perhaps you would also find these posts of interest / value:
* [Essential Foundation for Good Business](https://steemit.com/business/@roleerob/essential-foundation-for-good-business)
* [Liberty: Land of the Free, Home of the Brave](https://steemit.com/freedom/@roleerob/liberty-land-of-the-free-home-of-the-brave)
* [Observations: Words Matter](https://steemit.com/life/@roleerob/observations-words-matter)
* [HODLers of the World Unite!](https://steemit.com/steem/@roleerob/hodlers-of-the-world-unite)
* [Focus of our Time](https://steemit.com/life/@roleerob/focus-of-our-time) – This post won my first Steem award!
* [Prosperity: Freedom and Opportunity for Ordinary People](https://steemit.com/life/@roleerob/prosperity-freedom-and-opportunity-for-ordinary-people)
* [Observations: Gratitude and the Simple Things](https://steemit.com/life/@roleerob/observations-gratitude-and-the-simple-things)
* [Reflections: Adding "Value" to the Steem Blockchain - Chapter 1](https://steemit.com/life/@roleerob/reflections-adding-value-to-the-steem-blockchain-chapter-1)
* [Reflections: Curation and Pollination](https://steemit.com/life/@roleerob/reflections-curation-and-pollination)
* [HODLer Alert! Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) and Bitcoin](https://steemit.com/bitcoin/@roleerob/holder-alert-chicago-board-options-exchange-cboe-and-bitcoin)
##### Or, on the lighter side, this beginning of a series on some of my travels might be of interest:
* [Travelogue 1: Birthplace of Montana – Fort Benton](https://steemit.com/travel/@roleerob/travelogue-1-birthplace-of-montana-fort-benton)
* [Travelogue 2: Giant Springs State Park in Montana](https://steemit.com/travel/@roleerob/travelogue-2-giant-springs-state-park-in-montana)
* [Travelogue 3: Lake Quinault Lodge in Washington](https://steemit.com/travel/@roleerob/travelogue-3-lake-quinault-lodge-in-washington) - Listed in a [post](https://steemit.com/council/@council/council-upvoting-authors-with-good-content--sponsored-by-yehey--witness---09022018-000129-reports) about quality content!"