When you live around sheep and donkeys, hay is something you think about and pay attention to. Hay is the glue, one of the threads of life on a farm with animals, and I was thinking about hay a lot today, listening to that timeless sound of sheep and donkey jaws crunching away at it.
We have very good hay from Nelson Greene, the farmer, who has been cutting and selling it as long as I have been alive. We keep our hay in the barn, and it is moist, green, fresh. One of the most satisfying feelings in the world is having hay in the barn before the snows come. It is a wonderful smell, too. Mice love hay and so do barn cats. The chickens sometimes get themselves into the barn and sit up on hay bales and cluck softly, gossiping to one another.
I am constantly feeling and sniffing and considering my hay. And I drive Maria crazy studying how the animals are doing with it. Am I giving them enough? Is there too much on the ground? Can they pull it through the feeder bars? Should I give more, give less? Sheep are not respectful of hay, they pull it on the ground, dump and pee on it. Donkeys are very appreciative of hay, perhaps mindful of their long history without much of it to eat. They pull it out in clumps, nose through it carefully, leave little lying around.
Often I will go into the barn and pull out another leaf (there are about eight leaves to a bale) or two if think they are especially hungry. Or if it is very cold and they need energy. Or if they look pleadingly at me. This week, it was two leaves morning and night for donkeys, one leaf morning and night for the sheep. Not a lot of hay for big and active animals, and there is not much left on the ground. Each morning I collect all the fresh leavings in the barn – hay sheds when you pick it up – and put it in a bucket, it can be reused. Farmers always say that hay is cash on the farm, money. I remember that. I love the smell of hay, in the barn and in the feeder.
And I love walking out into the pasture with hay, the animals gathered intently around the feeders, baaahing and braying at me. If the temperature plunges, I give a little more. If there is grass on the ground that they can graze, I cut back. Our animals are all of a good weight and are mobile, fit and healthy. I credit hay with that.
I appreciate hay. It is humble and little remarked on, but on a farm, it is the fuel that makes the place go.