Haying Stays In Your Blood

Hayfield Near Farmington, North Carolina, April 22, 2023

Of the over fifty years that I have worked since I graduated college, only a little over a decade was spent farming. I did grow up in North Carolina in the fifties and sixties when everyone we knew had gardens, some had chickens, and even a few had a milk cow. It was not unusual to see hog killings in the fall and to receive some fresh country sausage as a gift.

The land was what gave life to us all, and where we go when life is gone. The land was at the center of all, and how could understand anything without first being on the land?

The Road to My Country

I felt that I had to go back to land. I was a little shellshocked after the sixties, four years in a military school and another four in the funny lights of Cambridge. I bought an old farm in Nova Scotia the summer that I graduated from Harvard. The skies in Nova Scotia were like the ones I remembered in my youth.
The urge to work the soil was strong even though I did not grow up on a farm. The immersion course we got in farming was intense but somehow we thrived for over a decade. We might have stayed on the farm if interest rates had not hit twenty percent in the early eighties and there were better local opportunities for our children. We dispersed our cattle in the fall of 1982 and sold the farm three years later after I spent a couple of years working in the city.

Farming has stayed with me all these years, even during my years in technology. It was only a year or two ago when I was driving from our home at the coast through the Virginia Mountains to headquarters when I saw a field of grass down. It was well on its way to being ready to be becoming hay. I had to stop, roll down the windows and enjoy the smells and remember all the good memories.
It was not unusual for our “team,” Harvey and I to put up sixty tons of hay in a good day. Harvey was in his sixties when I bought his farm which he had farmed with horses. We sometimes cut hay with two nine-foot mower conditioners. The big fields Harvey would rake with our twenty-one foot rake and the small fields with a ten-foot rake. I would bale with the big Vermeer baler and one of the 105 HP International tractors.
You could start cutting hay in the morning while the dew was still on it. Raking the hay before noon was okay, but I rarely started baling the hay until the afternoon. Large windrows that the tractor could barely straddle helped me churn out a nearly 2,000 pound bale every five to ten minutes depending on how much turning had to be done. When the hay was rolled up, we left it in the field until we had time to haul it back to the farm in the fall. Our hay farm was a couple of miles from where we kept the cows. We also cut hay all around the area wherever we could strike a deal with the owners. Before our children came, my wife even used to rake hay.

On a good day, making hay was something that gave you a feeling of accomplishment. A good crop of hay started with clearing the field of brush and rocks, applying lime, then working the ground, planting the grass seed in an oat cover crop, and sometimes fertilizing the fields in the spring. It doesn’t sound like much but it was lots of back-breaking work and sweat.

There were bad days making hay. Our mowers in those days had cutter bars with blades riveted on them. If you hit a rock and broke a blade, you had to stop and replace it. There are few things dirtier that replacing a blade on a mower conditioner cutter bar that has been collecting bugs, seeds, and dust for ten acres on its platform. If you didn’t itch from something that got on you, just remembering all the bugs would make you itch. The worst thing is when the equipment broke when you had hay ready to bale and wet weather was on the way. You try to forget those days. Getting hay that was ready to be baled dry after it was rained on is not a lot of fun.

There were some great memories from those haying seasons. Sometimes I would stop for lunch and my wife and the kids would show up with a real lunch. While my wife and I ate lunch, the kids would pick red raspberries on the rock piles. There were no snakes so it was as safe as it could be. Few of the raspberries they picked made it to us but they were so plentiful you could pick all that you wanted in a few minutes. The hay farm was high on a ridge and you could see for miles. There were no places any nicer on a summer day in the hardwood hills of New Brunswick.

It should be no surprise that I stopped recently to look at a field of grass (pictured above) that needed cutting. It is the last week of April here in North Carolina. There will be no thoughts other than my dreams of cutting hay in New Brunswick, Canada for another couple of months.
If I am lucky in the next two to three weeks, I will get to smell some curing hay in our rural area. I can hardly wait because it is still in my blood.

Author: ocracokewaves

An escapee from the world of selling technology, now living on North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks where life revolves around sun, sand, and water. I work at WideOpen Networks helping communities get fiber to their homes. In my spare time I am a photographer, writer, boater, fisherman, kayaker, swimmer, and walker of the beaches.

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