Haymaking, 2012: Gasp, Grunt, Groan – then Collapse with large Cava

I got back from filming on Friday afternoon, then it was off to get pink (agricultural) diesel. Next it was into the barn, clearing all the hurdles etc. that we used for shearing, to make way for hay bales. That took three hours. Meanwhile the tractor battery was charging. I collapsed into bed.

Next day (Saturday) I slept in. No point getting up too early, as the bales in the paddock near the garden were wet with dew and the main field hadn’t yet been baled. The tractor started first time (the trick is to let the glow plugs gleam for a full minute) and we were off! I think there were 27 four-foot round bales from the paddock and the strips of grass along the big dykes that bound our holding. There were four left to move when Charles (our contractor and neighbour) arrived with the tedder to row-up the main field. As I ferried bales I could see the baler arrive – a large green box behind an even larger green (John Deere) tractor. Then it began work – and I went hell-for-leather. There were clouds starting to build up. By the end of the day I’d moved about 42 bales into the dry safety of the main barn.

Sunday dawned clear and sunny, but soon started to cloud over. I got up at five-thirty and had finished breakfast an hour later. Then it was out to the tractor: refuel, check engine and hydraulic oil, then a thorough grease-ing. By then it was about seven a.m. I counted the bales left to shift: I made it about 50. Quite a tall order, as heavy thundery rain was forecast around midday.

It went quite well for a couple of hours, then the top-link on the rear hydraulic linkage worked loose. I should have checked it, but was going too hard. More haste, less speed. The result was that bales began to slip off. One came off while I was crossing a large dyke. It rolled down the slope and snagged on the concrete parapet of a culvert. At least it didn’t block the dyke. That would have stopped everything,  as it would have completely blocked a main drain – and risked flooding a large area. So I’d have had to have fixed it, and to hell with the expense. I fixed the problem with about 15 bales to shift. There were just seven bales left to shift when I felt the first few drops of rain, but they were at the very far end of the field. By now I was putting the bales out in the yard – 24 are stored under tarpaulins – so I pressed on, through the thundery rain. I got completely and utterly soaked. But the job was done and the bales covered. My old tarps were a bit moth-eaten so today I’ll go out and get a new stack-sheet, before Tuesday’s heavy rain hits us. Then, if ever we see the sun again, I’ll uncover the outside bales for a day or two to let them dry off. I checked the rain gauge afterwards and there’d been just 4mm in that storm, so I don’t think too much damage had been done.

And now for the good news. Last year we made 60 four-foot bales. This year I can report we made 87! And it smelled gorgeous – I’ll have the protein levels analysed later. So yes, I earned my bottle of Cava last night. And so did Maisie who helped me sheet-up the outside stack and then cooked a gorgeous supper. Oh yes, and Maisie took this picture of me, a bale and my 1964 International B414, sometime around 11.00 AM, just before the morning cup of tea.

Haymaking, 2012

Lowering a bale for winter storage outside the barn. Note the fence posts to keep the hay clear (ish) of the ground. The vintage tractor was built when I was 19 years old. I’ve owned it since 1993 when it cost me £700 and came complete with a 3-ton trailer, which I still use to store bulk feed in winter.

And now back to reality: it’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Olympics. Acres of throbbing Lycra. Am I alone here, but I’m kind of dreading the next two weeks – just how much corporate smoothness and carefully manicured weepy joy can I stick? I wish the games were about spontaneous people doing sport in a real field – with mud and smells… Or am I hopelessly old-fashioned? Shut up, Pryor.

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