Friday, July 31, 2009

Downsized haying

Boy, it's been a rough haying season so far. While the country life and messing with farm animals have their fair share of idyllic moments, the lifestyle also has its share of maddening frustrations. I won't even go into the exceptionally cold spring that was followed by a growth-inhibiting dry spell. The vagaries of nature have to be expected sometimes.

The big problem this year is equipment failures. A few years ago, after I lost an off-the-farm job, we downsized and sold a 75 horsepower tractor and a good John Deere haybine (a glorified mower that conditions the hay by crimping it so that it will dry faster). I also stopped traveling around the countryside with my haying partner who had a decent Gehl round baler, leaving me with no baler at all. The price of gas and diesel last year was making the cost of putting up our own hay in quantities adequate to supply a marketable beef cattle herd along with our horses, llamas and goats through the long North Woods winter simply uneconomical.

Debra and I decided to try to hay off about 25 acres of our own pasture and cut down on the size of our hay-burning livestock herd. With such small acreage to harvest, we decided to buy a good smaller tractor and some very old used haying equipment, including a sickle bar mower, an ancient rusty side-delivery rake, and an old square baler.

When I was growing up, I had heard that you could always tell the successful farmers that were in it for the long haul from those doomed to failure simply by looking at the equipment in their fields. The ones most likely to succeed were said to be those using the oldest equipment on diversified crops. Those taking the plunge into huge acreage monoculture with the most modern expensive equipment were asking for big debt trouble.

So I figured it was about time I put this theory to the test. We got ten bales out of the field while testing the equipment, and too much hay cut and laying down when the equipment started falling apart. That downed hay will be good for nothing but bedding if we can ever get it baled and in the barn.

Boy, am I ever getting a lesson in breaking rusty bolts, knocking out leaking and worn bearings, replacing universal joints, facing the impossibility of buying parts that are obsolete and no longer available, and trying to fabricate parts that will substitute in their stead. So far the sickle bar mower has broken 4 times, and the gear box and drive shaft on the rake are currently in pieces.

Thank goodness Jack, my summer fishing buddy, is around to help. He has spent years in the woods repairing logging equipment, and can pretty much tell how something must be put together before it is even taken apart. He is also much less shy with the hammer and cold chisel than I am, and has been able to convince old, ungreased, oxidation-fused metal to yield to his wishes with much more success. Hopefully, we can get things up and running again before the snow flies.

Time will tell how this noble experiment with restored farm equipment works. Thus far, I am tempted to believe an old billboard that I once saw down in the Ozarks of Missouri. It was advertising recreational boating equipment and read: "Buy the best... and only cry once!"

Oh, well. My new mantra is: "At least I'm not paying interest... not paying interest... no interest... no debt... no interest..."

I just have to prevent this mantra from evolving into "... no interest... no interest... no interest in farming!"


  1. Ah hay season I remember it well. The mow was always the kids place and the adults had sense to stay out where there was less chaff. Good luck with repairs and good luck with the season! What's the ol' saying; Make hay while the sunshines!! Love and Light, Nina P.

  2. We know all too well what you are talking about. Last year we had had enough of the two old bush hogs breaking down, with one growing weeds around it and traded them for a new Bush Hog and we are in heaven. It is our first new piece of farm equipment in a long time, the other being a box blade. Our old tractor is hanging in there. Diesel is less complicated, once you understand it.
    Good luck with the haying. Our year has been crazy too for our garden.

  3. YOu are in equipment break down hell. Simply stated. I know 2nd hand the agony you're in. since i never have to touch the tractors my self... We have tractors and my husband is always fixing SOMETHING!! He says either you are making payments on the new stuff or you make it up paying for parts on the old stuff so its a loose-loose situation no mater what. I so hope you get your hay baled in time.

  4. Hopefully, once you get everything fixed and the hay baled you won't have any more problems with the equipment. I like the no interest and no debt part of the deal, but having everything break is a real bummer.

  5. Man I do not envy you. It is easier to buy and go into debt for the best. You get interest and payments and all that. I have never farmed but you must be doing the right thing.. Glad you have friends that can help you with the repairs. My wife and I follow your theory. We have old cars, no payments to make every month. The repairs are on us. Thankful to us we have handled most of the repairs without paying the labor. (a little sweat, broken knuckles and all that) I appreciate someone that doesn't think they have to keep up with the jones's.

  6. Hope you get a break from repairs. You're lucky to have a friend to help. No interest. No payments. No interest. No payments.
    Hope you have a repair free weekend great weekend!

  7. We just bought a new John Deere but are looking for used equipment. I don't mind the interest. The hard part is finding good used equipment. I wish ya'll luck.

  8. I have spend the last hour reading your blog and really enjoying it. Sorry about your equipment breakdown. Your title photo is priceless.
    Sunny :)

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