Heh there – keep it simple man
Graham R. Cooper
A bit of a lark in the meadow
In England they call it ‘a meadow’. In Kiwiland we’re made of more guttural stuff and call it ‘a paddock’. No sing-along vowel ending ‘o’ for us, “ock no”. I’ll throw in an apology to the Scottish language for good measure – “och aye”.
It’s still called ‘meadow hay’, not ‘paddock hay’, but as the contractor said when he rang me up: “This year it’s $5.00 a bale if collected from ‘the paddock’, $7.50 if I deliver it.”
“When do you need to know?” I asked, hoping to put off the inevitable. For people like me a lot of things are never convenient.
“I’m in ‘the paddock’ baling it right now.” So early in the season for haymaking – unheard of!
A lark in the paddock
Half an hour later and we were in ‘a paddock’ and putting what Kiwis call ‘conventional bales’ on the trailer. They’re ideal for us homesteaders: they can be single-handedly carried and tossed around, and it’s easy to peel off a leaf or two when feeding out.
Across Europe, the romance of the meadow or its equivalent has gone the way of most aspects of traditional farming. They’re mostly agribusinesses now, using industrial farming practices.
When Megadocks roamed the land
Perhaps we should describe the vast areas of arable land, wherever they are in the world, farmed under this brave new regime, as mega paddocks – ‘megadocks’ for short. Sounds suitably like giant dinosaurs stomping across the land – and we know what happened to them. The pivot irrigators that straddle and sweep across vast swathes of New Zealand pastoral land are ready-made like gargantuan dinosaur skeletons.
Once upon a time …
Once upon a time the meadows were bursting with an astonishing number and variety of wild plants, animals, birds and insects – like an ‘Avatar’ film landscape, but for earthlings. If it sounds like a fairytale, that’s because that’s all it is these days.
Dave Goulson gives us a vivid picture of what it must have been like in those meadows of old. And he tells us about his “own efforts to encourage more and more species to colonise [his meadow in a] little corner of the French countryside”. It’s a book I treasure and I wholeheartedly go along with what the New Scientist reviewer, Matthew Cobb, has to say:
An idyllic farmhouse, challenging thoughts on conservation, an author who sounds like a great guy. What’s not to hate in A Buzz in the Meadow? …
… Like I said, I hated Dave Goulson. But I ended up loving him. You will too. Buy this book, give it as a present. It is required reading for being a human in the 21st century.
The not so grim reaper
What’s the best hay we ever had: thick with grass blades dried blue-green, and dried clovers, and scented and soft, enticing you to roll in it?
When I scythed our big lawn area (that takes 4 to 5 hours to mow with a motor mower). I joyfully reaped it – this was no grim reaper – just before the first grasses started to go to seed.
I’d bought myself a brand new continental scythe that weighed only a third as much as a standard British one, and a wide, purpose-built hay rake. And as we already had a couple of hay forks – we were good to go.
I viewed the short instructional DVD that came with the scythe three or four times, and my technique did improve – but I was still slow as. It was too scary to even imagine how long it would have taken me to scythe one of our small paddocks – ock.
It’s the romantic in me
Little old me, with all the romance of ‘The Solitary Reaper’*, and a nod in the direction of pre-Industrial Revolution times. Times that demanded many men, superbly proficient with scythes, working in a beautifully synchronized, rhythmic manner as they cut their swathes through the meadows.
And of course, that was just the start. Where were the villagers when I needed them for raking it into windrows, forking it onto the cart, and making the haystack? And the camaraderie, the nourishment provided by farmhouse cheddar washed down with swigs of strong ‘farmhouse scrumpy’ cider?
Heh rainmaker! I’m the haymaker!
And where were the villagers when, late on the second day of drying, it started to rain?
I hauled out the long, wide roll of weedmatting that we hadn’t got round to using, and June and I scooped up armfuls of hay and spread it out on the mat. Then we slid it along scythed grass and down the concrete driveway till we got to the garage. It took up all the available space on the garage floor because we snaked it back and forth to keep the grass spread out.
At least we could now slide it outside and leave it on the mats to dry. Handy when we got more rain before it was ready to go in the shed.
Sometimes a Great Notion **
It’s a few years ago now and filed away in the memory as yet another salutary lesson on why, at times, I should rein in my overactive imagination. At least on this occasion I did learn from the error of my ways and have not so much as entertained since, the notion of using a scythe to make hay.
The joyful reaper
A wonderful outcome though, was finding out just how much I enjoyed using such a light, beautifully designed, streamlined instrument to cut down patches of Californian thistles and other unwanted pasture weeds. In fact, when I get into some semblance of a rhythm I thoroughly enjoy scything no matter what.
A bit of a barney
It’s just that I’m not prepared to spend weeks at a stretch devoted to getting in enough hay to feed the livestock for a year. Or to building a barn big enough to store all that loose hay, even when somewhat compressed.
Of course I could avoid the need for a barn by learning how to construct a traditional haystack. Another time-consuming task, and then it would be up to “just the two of us” to build a haystack every year.
I do get myself in a muddle with monotonous regularity. But at least with the hay I’ve now got it down to a “keep it simple, stupid!” formula.
Here’s my “keep it simple, stupid!” formula:
- I no longer shut a paddock or paddocks up for making into hay.
- I let someone else worry about whether the contractor will be available to cut their paddock grasses and clovers before the grasses go rank and stalky and the clovers die off – the consequent hay having lost much of its feed value.
- I let someone else worry about whether the cut hay will get partially spoilt by rain while still lying in the paddock.
- I buy in all our hay, first making sure the hay I’m buying is sweet smelling, dry in the middle of those tight bales and not going to go mouldy. And if at all possible, not mostly stalk and gone to seed long ago.
- I shut up some paddocks during the summer (actual timing depends on the season), so that there’s enough ‘standing hay’ (pasture left untouched for months) for the cows to graze on throughout winter and until there’s new spring growth.
- I keep aside a dozen bales in case we get snow that’s so deep the cows can’t even get at the tall standing stalks of the saved pasture.
- I get in fifty or so bales for June’s goats. Cut, dry hay is part of their daily diet as browsers despite rotational grazing providing good pasture for them year round.
Simple when you know how, eh?
These days, our paddocks are a tad more meadow-like than they used to be. Wouldn’t you love to take a walk in a meadow sometime?
*’The Solitary Reaper’ – a poem by William Wordsworth
**Sometimes a Great Notion – a novel by Ken Kesey (of One flew over the cuckoo’s nest fame)
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully for this week. Looking forward to your company again next Monday. Bye for now.