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Hay Days

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On the farm, "Make hay while the sun shines" is not just an idle maxim. In winter, the cows need to eat.

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Posted by Maryellen Driscoll

After a long spell of consistently wet and cool weather that made August feel more like September, it’s finally feeling like summer again. I’d been craving that. So I got what I wanted—a stretch of sunny, dry weather with gentle breezes that make me want to inhale the moment and hold it in forever. But, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, because on a farm, such perfect weather means only one thing: It’s time to make hay.

As a small, highly diversified farm, there’s never a good time to make hay. Our 7 days of the week are already impossibly jammed with planting schedules, harvest days, deliveries, market days, butchering days, moving cows and fence … And yet, when the weather is right, we have to make time to cut, rake and bale up hay. Come winter, cows need to eat.

Nearly 10 years ago, when we were searching for a farm, we believed diversified, small-scale farming was the best way to truly farm sustainably. So we sought a farm with at least 100 acres—enough land to grow crops, graze animals, and rotate the two to fully complement one another. We still believe in this system. It’s enabled us to depend pretty exclusively on our own farm-produced fertility—be it from our compost or the manure that animals drop as they are grazing on pasture. It’s amazing. And yet, the longer we do it, the more we understand why we don’t see a lot of highly diversified farms.

So this week, we make the hay, before the aftermath of the hurricane hits. Ken drives the tractor in 90-degree weather with a closed cab and broken A/C (another $1,000+ repair in the waiting). And I stay back at the homestead, as it went last night, trying to wing some kind of a dinner while my 3-year-old hangs at my feet pressing for her dad, or a cookie, and my 10-month-old son surprises me by (gulp) climbing step ladders. Ah, yes, these are the hay days—and nights—on a small, diversified family farm.

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