The Farmer’s Wife – Hay Carting Initiation
Farming and hay carting seem to go hand in hand, so it was only going to be a matter of time before I experienced the joys of the job. Now for the novice out there, hay carting takes place late spring and through summer, often during the hottest, driest part of the season. The hay is cut, left to dry a little, raked into rows, by a tractor, not by hand, thank God. What a mammoth job that would have been all those years ago for the early farmers. It is then baled; usually at night because it turns to charf in the hot sun otherwise.
My first hay carting session was back when we only had a small square baler; no big rounds or large squares like you see these days. These hay bales weighed anything from 15-25kg and often, as it was in this case, full of prickles. (It took years and copious nagging to finally get those paddocks prickle free). It was a stinking hot day, as expected and I was wearing jeans and long sleeves for prickle protection when George unceremoniously handed me a rough leather apron, with the suede side of the leather on both sides. It looked similar to a butchers apron, but weighed about ten times as much. He threw me a pair of oversized gloves, also leather, which barely stayed on my hands when my fists were not closed and smiled. So let’s paint the full picture here. I am 5’4″ and the apron was about 4″ long, take out my head and feet and the rest was covered, covered in jeans, long sleeves and heavy leather apron on a 35 plus degree day. Let’s just say moving presented its challenges, but we really had no choice but to cart hay in the hottest part of the day because we had to milk cows at 6am and then again at 4pm.
Now to cart hay you need a truck so we wandered off down to the hay shed and in amongst the chest high grass, with the snakes and who knows what stood the hay truck; an old 1954 Bedford tray top with a crank start, (yep, you heard right a crank start in the eighties). Farmers don’t replace machinery until it dies and turns to dust in the paddock. This rusty old green machine had a timber flat bed containing more holes than wood and the view of the ground passing under you as you sat on the back was less than comforting. Now let’s continue the picture, the short little city girl with her oversized apron, flopping leather gloves was now sitting on the back of clapped out old farm truck on her way to help with her first hay carting experience. Luck had it that I wasn’t expected to load the truck this time, only help unload it which was marginally less exhausting. When the truck returned, the tray was loaded high with around 100 square bales. We unloaded the heavy little suckers into the open sided hay shed. Even with the gloves, the tight binding twine cut into my soft little hands as my 54kg frame struggled to lift each and every bale from the ground, where George threw it and up into the haystack in the shed. Every time I even looked like complaining, George would say, ‘someone has to do it Fiona, the hay isn’t going to shift itself’, always with a smile, even when I am sure he wasn’t smiling on the inside. He had grown up farming. Doing the tuff stuff was just bred into him. I was still learning and finding it pretty hard at times.
As a teenager I used to avoid doing tasks which I found hard, didn’t enjoy or wasn’t instantly an expert at. I still do on occasion, but farming taught me many life lessons. None I believe as important as this one. Sometimes the work just has to be done. No one else is going to do it and the consequences of not getting it done are simply not affordable or acceptable. This type of work isn’t like housekeeping, (I still avoid housework like the plague), with no real major life changing consequences, well not yet anyway. You know the work I mean, those activities you try to avoid at all costs, but ultimately if they are not done, the outcome isn’t pretty. The experience might not be easy, it might even feel like impossible body aching work. At the end though, there is nothing quite as rewarding as overcoming your fears and reservations to achieve something you thought you couldn’t do. It is a real confidence builder and opens up so many future opportunities; well it did for me anyway.