Sunday, January 27, 2008
I have a ritual on Sunday mornings. It’s the day we get hay. I am so grateful to be able to do it, and I enjoy the experience no matter what the weather. Since we moved here, there has been too much hay drama. Coming from California, where the Bermuda grass is always cheap, beautiful and available, I was stunned to discover that buying hay for my horses in New England was a big problem.
We arrived here several years ago in June. I began making inquiries among my neighbors about where they bought hay. What I learned is that most people fill their barns once a year in September or October, and that’s it. So, the farmers who sell hay run out quickly, and what’s available is very expensive. My neighbor, who owns a big hunter/jumper barn down the road, roared into my driveway in her truck one morning shortly after we moved here. “Get in!” she called to me as I was doing my barn chores in my pajamas, “The hay man’s here!” We tore down the road to her place, where a big truck was unloading about three hundred bales of hay on a conveyor going up into her loft. It looked like straw, but the farmer assured me that it was first cut. That’s all there is right now, I was told.
I brought home six bales, and my horses looked at me like I was crazy. It was the beginning of my long search for good second cutting hay. I’d find it and then, the guy who sold it to me would disappear or not be able to get any more. For almost two years, before the current hay crisis even began, I struggled to find anything decent. My girls are fussy, and if they don’t like it, they just trample it and poop on it. Since I’m only feeding two horses, which is about a bale a day, I am willing to buy the best. It can’t have alfalfa in it or they get higher than kites. They like the soft, green stuff with strands as wide as ribbons. If it’s up to their high standards, it smells delicious and looks like I could make a salad out of it.
At long last, I have developed an on-going relationship with an honest hay dealer. On Sunday mornings, he sells the best forage he can find out of his huge barn on his farm about forty minutes away from here. It’s a beautiful drive in the country. I join the line of pick-up trucks and assorted vehicles waiting to load up. Many of the people have been coming to his barn for over thirty years. There’s a genuinely friendly atmosphere. Sometimes, he’s got vegetables or fruit to sell. He’s restored his farm to its original footprint, and as his neighbors grow older, he grows hay on their land to give them income and a much needed tax break. He’s a good man. I’m always glad to spend part of my Sunday going out there, even if it’s snowing lightly like it was this morning. Driving home, I give thanks for having healthy food for my horses at a reasonable price. It’s probably a bit like what most people feel when they go to church, only as usual, my rituals seem to occur in a barn.
I know it’s really hard for a lot of people who need hay right now because of the drought. I expect it will get harder here too soon. I’ve got some Aborigine friends in Australia who know a tried and true rain dance. Maybe they will teach it to me. At the very least, I’ll be praying for rain this Spring. I hope you do too.