Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘growing hay

Happening Now

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I’ve witnessed the evidence in my lifetime.

The trend is undeniable. Feel free to argue the cause.

I claim human activity is responsible.

For the time being, at least we still have trees.

I need to plant more trees.

I heard an ominous story on news radio during my commute home yesterday that highlighted the concerns of owning animals at a time when growing hay to feed them is getting harder to do successfully.

We have hay in our shed for this winter, but future years are not guaranteed. It pains me that our green grass is too rich for granting full-time access to our horses. We end up feeding them hay year-round.

It’s awkward. Like being adrift in the ocean, surrounded by water that you can’t drink.

It will be tough if we reach a point where there isn’t enough hay to feed all the grazing livestock.

It’s not a single issue calamity at risk, though. There are plenty of other aspects of the warming planet that are simultaneously having an impact. I’d sure hate to be in the insurance industry now that we are experiencing waves of increasing intensity severe weather events.

I can’t figure out how they will be able to cover the ever-increasing expenses for claims from the devastation of storm after storm.

I wonder what it will be like here six years from now. We don’t currently have a long-range plan worked out for the ranch. The initial improvements we put in place upon arrival have sufficed for a few years now. There isn’t a lot more we need to do beyond maintaining the buildings and grounds as they are.

Simply responding to the ongoing climate slide may become our main challenge.

I suppose I could always focus on marketing our paradise as a place to Forest Bathe.

I really should be planting more trees.

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Written by johnwhays

October 25, 2018 at 6:00 am

Making Decisions

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With everything around here growing at warp speed, now would be a really bad time to lose the services of our Stihl power trimmer. Isn’t there a law of probability about this?

While Cyndie was making headway against the grass jungle taking over the gazebo on Monday, the trimmer became “wobbly.” She discovered the main drive shaft tube had suffered a metal-fatigue fracture.

That’s not good.

I dropped it off for repair in the evening, but their backlog of work is running at two weeks. It’s scary to imagine not being able to trim for that many days.

Cyndie thinks we should buy another one, and I am hard pressed to argue. There have been many times when we both could be trimming at the same time.

Pondering this. Something about it doesn’t feel right. I’m driven to balance the logic of a cost-benefit analysis, a crystal ball vision of what our future is here, and that unsettling gut feeling about the expense. Then I need to deal with the fact there is no right or wrong answer in the end.

You know me and decision-making. It’s not my favorite thing to manage.

One thing that I’m glad that we weren’t relying on me to decide, yesterday we got the details from our neighbor about his plan for the hay-field. It makes total sense to me now.

While he was cutting on Monday night, he was listening to the weather forecast. The outlook for rain all day Thursday was holding strong, so he smartly stopped cutting any more than he thought he could get dried and baled by the end of today.

We received encouraging news from him about our fields. He said the grass is real thick underneath, likely due to the mowing we did all last summer. In addition, he clarified that the tall grass going to seed was not Foxtail, as Cyndie feared (which is not good for our horses’ mouths), but the premium horse hay staple, Timothy.

We still have a long way to go in our transition from suburbanites to Ag-wise country folk.

(Brings to mind my stuttering pause into the phone when I was asked what kind of cows were trampling our property a couple of weeks ago. Um, big ones?)

Amidst the angst of dealing with equipment failures, it is refreshing to learn some good news about the outcome of our efforts to improve the quality of what is growing in our hay-field and pastures.

Despite all the challenges that continue to arise (and decisions thus required), Wintervale continues to evolve in an encouraging way for us.

Hurrah!

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Two Worlds

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In the constant ebb and flow of change that has occurred for Cyndie and me in the almost 4 years since we moved from the suburbs to rural life on a horse hobby farm, there are waves of intensity that can be both invigorating and disorienting. I’m probably just tired from a pattern of not sleeping optimal hours every night, but lately things have been mostly disorienting.

Yesterday, while filling out the schedule of customer orders at the day-job, I received a new Purchase Order with a requested delivery date that I immediately perceived to be past due. Wondering how that could be, I checked the date it was sent and interpreted that as being a week old.

I marched up to the boss’s office to investigate how this could have happened, only to embarrass myself in discovering that my mind was off by a week. The order was sent and received with yesterday’s date and they were asking for delivery next Wednesday.

Never mind.

Obviously, I was not living in the moment. My calibration gets a little off when spending hours of intense mental energy trying to fit weeks of work into limited days of available labor, several months into the future. It gets compounded when trying to do so while simultaneously burdened with trying to self-teach lessons on how to properly (read that as “legally”) load and secure heavy cargo on a trailer.

My poor little brain is surfing on the crest of one of those waves of constant change with regard to the horse hobby farm gig. We have adjusted our hay plans this year to trying to purchase all of next season’s inventory and not use any of what we can cut and bale off our field. This year’s crop on our front field is growing more weeds than grass.

We are negotiating with two sources for small square bales and trying to work out movement of goods. Cyndie called the trailer dealership in town to inquire about short-term rental of a flat-bed. It just so happens that our next door neighbor, John, works there. He said they don’t rent equipment, but offered to loan us the use of one of his trailers. He’s got two of them.

DSCN4953eWednesday night, John stopped by the house to discuss details and I learned very quickly how out of my league I was. When we bought the truck, I didn’t know there was a difference between a trailer hitch and a ball mount. My rather narrow experience from years in industry is in electronics manufacturing. It was intimidating to learn the significance of details involved with trailering commercial-sized loads like the one I already moved last week, which I had done without proper knowledge.

Yesterday, Cyndie took our truck in to have the trailer dealer install a brake controller. Last night, our neighbor stopped by and dropped off his trailer in front of our hay shed.

I’m trying to shift mental gears from the day-job world to the hobby farm world, and reviewing the Wisconsin laws for securing and trailering heavy cargo. We are also trying to plot a course toward improving the crop of hay we hope to grow for ourselves.

Don’t ask me what day it is today. I’m feeling a little disoriented.

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Written by johnwhays

July 22, 2016 at 7:11 am

Be Careful

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IMG_4233eBe careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

We dearly wanted to improve the muddy situation that our horses face during the wet spring meltdown. Last fall we excavated an improved drainage swale, cleared out the overgrown drainage ditch along our southern property border, buried drain tile along the uphill borders of the paddocks, and applied several loads of lime screenings on the hill around the barn for improved footing.

We have been anxiously awaiting the thaw to see if our improvements worked the way we hoped. That thaw is almost complete now, and we are standing by to see how quickly the soil dries out.

What we couldn’t control was the amount of moisture we would be forced to deal with by the weather. Our mild winter left us with a below average snow cover and we have been without precipitation for over a week. The effectiveness of our improvements is hard to gauge because the ground is already too dry!

There is still plenty of time to receive some spring rain, but for the time being, we are experiencing what the meteorologists are phrasing as “pre-drought conditions.”

We wanted dryer conditions for the paddock footing, but this is not the way we would like it to occur.

It is interesting that the changing climate seems to be putting us at risk for dryer, drought-like conditions overall, while at the same time unleashing more copious dousings of precipitation from individual storm events. We get too much all at once and then not enough in between.

I am a bit concerned about how that will impact our intentions of growing hay. Over the last two years we have been unable to get more than one cutting in a season, because the spring and early summer have been too wet, and the rest of the growing season has been too dry. We haven’t had enough growth after the first cut to allow for a second batch of bales.

This year we are starting out dry. Who knows what we’ll get in the months ahead. I’m hesitant to wish for more moisture for fear of then getting more than we can handle. Wishes are not to be waved about carelessly. We should be clear about what we want and what we don’t want.

What are the rules again? I can’t wish for more wishes, but can I wish for a precise outcome? Not less than we need, and not more than we need.

Be careful what you wish for.

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Written by johnwhays

March 13, 2015 at 6:00 am

Ongoing Challenge

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In our zealous effort to get Wintervale Ranch functioning optimally in the shortest amount of time possible, we have repeatedly run into weather related obstacles that have hampered progress. I think it’s even fair to say the weather has been more of a problem in the last two years than has our simple lack of knowledge or experience in managing life on big property with forests, fields, and animals that need our care.

The issue feeling most burdensome today has to do with growing hay ourselves. I’ve written before that we are on a multi-year plan to improve our crop, so this one moment in time shouldn’t be such a big deal, but there is a chronological sequence to the 2-or-3-year process that is putting pressure on us once again. In early spring we were hurrying to get the field cut short and over-seeded with a mix of pasture grasses. Now we need to cut it to knock down the weeds and encourage growth of desired grass.

The wet weather has interfered with everyone getting their first cut of the season done.

I learned yesterday that the neighbor who we were hoping would be able to guide and assist us to get our field cut and eventually baled is doubting he will be able to get to us in a timely fashion since he is so far behind on his own fields. Every farmer I drove past on the way home from work yesterday was out cutting his hay.

Time waits for no one. We don’t own (yet) the equipment to cut for hay ourselves (the brush cutter mulches what it cuts), nor the rake to arrange the cut grass into windrows, nor the attachment that makes bales, so we are currently at the mercy of finding someone local to help us out. If we miss this weather-window of opportunity and are forced to wait for the next dry spell, it will mean less nutritional quality of our crop and more weeds that can get re-established again, despite our short mowing to discourage them earlier in the year.DSCN2043e

The horses are doing their darndest to help munch down the tall grass in the grazing field in back. Well, at least two of them are. For some reason, Legacy and Dezirea haven’t wanted to cross the extremely wet, soft ground that is just outside the paddock in that direction. You can see the old fence line where the tall grass starts and how the shorter grass in the foreground has been trimmed like a lawn by their previous grazing.

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In this shot across the shaded paddock, you can see the field we want to cut for hay in the background, basking in the sunshine. It is ready and waiting for us to make our move.

I don’t yet know what that next move is going to be.

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Written by johnwhays

July 3, 2014 at 6:00 am

Grass Management

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There is an ebb and flow to managing a 20-acre property and animals in a rural setting that on the surface is significantly different from my old life in the suburbs. From my perspective, it’s not as dissimilar as one might think, beyond the obvious increase in scale.

I was thinking about how it feels like I pay more attention to the weather now than I ever had before, but that’s not really the case. I’ve always been fascinated by the weather. I fretted about the dilemma of either too much, or not enough precipitation impacting the growing things on our suburban lot, just not on the same scale as I do now. Back then, it didn’t get the same degree of attention from me, I suppose because there was less at stake.

I’m sure I had the neighbors chuckling over my activities yesterday, as I rode my little lawn tractor to mow part of the big hay-field beside our driveway, racing to beat the rain. The back field looked so darn nice that I overcame my hesitation to look foolish, and cut as much as I could before time ran out. Just like we had done two days before, I started by pulling a rake behind the Grizzly ATV to scar the surface to be seeded, switched to the lawn tractor to pull the seed spreader, then set about mowing as much of the rest of the field as I could.

Most of what I was doing was in sight of the horses, and they seemed to take great interest. This is the field where we let them roam for most of the time since they arrived last fall. I expect they are feeling a bit frustrated to not be given access now that the snow has melted. Our plan is to graze them on other fields and to grow this space for hay.

I only cut about half of the field before the precipitation started. I think it will be a challenge to get the rest done, because what’s left is thicker grass to start with, it will be wetter, and the new moisture will help trigger a growth spurt. I had wanted to get the field cut before spring growth started, which is the reason I was using the lawn tractor in the first place. It is light enough that it can work before the ground is dry and not leave wheel ruts.

If I’m not able to get that second half mowed, it could provide comparison to show the difference mowing made.

Whether our plan to improve the grass in that field works instantly, or not, it sure looks better right away. It is likely the improvement toward getting good quality hay will be incremental over a few years. I’m okay with that. I spent a lot of years slowly transitioning our suburban lot from a lawn to a natural, leaf-carpeted forest floor.

By the way, word has gotten back to us that the folks who bought our old place are changing it back into a lawn.

Such is the ebb and flow of grass management.

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Written by johnwhays

April 24, 2014 at 6:00 am

Hay Quest

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We are on a hay quest. I know Cyndie has dabbled at this, off and on, beginning more than two years ago when we began thinking about how many acres we would need to support 4 horses. Now it is crunch time, and we are both realizing we probably could have done more toward this aspect of owning horses.

I admit to not paying much attention to this detail. Having no experience whatsoever, I gladly deferred to Cyndie’s efforts toward figuring it all out. She is a voracious reader and I frequently found her delving into research on all things hay-related. She also has a lot of first-hand experience with feeding horses, and she has contact with friends who buy hay for horses. It made sense to me to have her take the lead on this issue.

She knew all along that this was an important detail that we needed to address, but a simple solution has continued to elude us. Now, finding a source for hay has become the final step we would like to accomplish before bringing horses here. Everything else is pretty much ready. (I still have some areas of turf, dirt and roots in one paddock that need to be smoothed out.)

In the final hour, we are not only finding that hay is incredibly expensive right now, but we are finding that there is hardly any available to be purchased.

It has greatly increased the incentive to rev up our efforts toward growing our own, and growing as much as we possibly can. We have gone back and forth, several times, over what the best use of our fields would be for us. We don’t have the equipment, or the knowledge required, to cut and bail hay (yet), so we have mostly considered buying from others and using our land for grazing. Now, for the immediate future, our focus is shifting toward finding someone who is willing to come to our property and cut/bale what we grow.

That’s the next challenge. What is growing here currently is sub-par. It needs to have weed killer applied and then be reseeded. We tried to get this to happen this summer, but accomplishing it on the scale we need has proved just beyond our reach. Now we are pretty much out of time for this growing season.

Given the high cost and limited availability of hay, we will be looking to become masters of growing the best horse hay possible on our land. Good horse hay is basically grass. Imagine that! After all the years I have endeavored to eliminate areas of grass that need to be mowed. Now I will be finding a way to grow the most grass possible. One of the first steps will be cutting down the high weeds in the area to the north of our driveway in attempt to convert that to good grass, probably for grazing, but maybe even cutting for hay in the future.

Who would ever have guessed? I am cutting wild areas to turn them into spaces where we will be growing more grass. It feels like a practical joke from the universe, or something.

Written by johnwhays

September 10, 2013 at 7:00 am