Makin Hay

We live on 50 rural acres. When we bought the place, most of the land was planted in cash crops of corn and wheat. Even before we moved in, I contracted a local farmer to plant pasture grasses everywhere but around the house and our out buildings. Although the neighbors couldn’t believe that we would “ruin” the land that way, when we moved down with seventy sheep and two llamas that were able to graze in our new pasture.

That was nearly twenty years ago. Since then we sold our livestock when our Service Dog training business was taking hold and we had to make a decision about how we were going to spend our limited time. Without sheep grazing them, the pastures would have slowly been taken over by shrubs, so we contracted a local farmer to cut the fields for hay.

I love our land. A bit off center of the property, there’s a 3 or four acre pond in which bass, blue gills and crappies make a living. In summer, Great Blue Herons and a smaller white egret species often stop by to take advantage of the fishing. We haven’t done so in a while, but Robert and I used to go fishing in the pond a few times each summer. Once, an Osprey flew over our heads and dropped into the shallows just about 10 feet from where we sat. He nabbed a huge bass in his talons then flew off with his prize! Our neighbors take measures to ward off the herons because they worry their fish will be depleted. I think we have plenty of fish to go around.

Surrounding the pastures, there are stands of trees. Osage Orange, Maple and Oak are prevalent. These little ecosystems provide an opportunity for many different bird species and small mammals like rabbits, raccoons and I have even seen some sort of weasel, perhaps a martin? We often hear coyotes jabbering with each other in the distance. White tailed deer come for dinner every night, as they feel safe standing in the open where they can see danger approach. Since we moved from little, original house to our new location on the property, the deer seem to have taken over the yard between the barns. The last snowfall showed many deer tracks using the old driveway to access the field behind the barn.

I like to think that cutting hay on our fifty acres mimics the original ecosystem in this area, where bison once reduced trees from taking over the plains. Keeping the grasses “grazed” provide an opportunity for all sorts of plant species to thrive, from the native grasses to cat tails and beautiful wild flowers. It encourages several bird species to set up shop, here, too. Right after it’s cut, the fields look like an “Insects are Us” self-serve restaurant for Bluebirds, Meadow Larks and Killdeer.

Here are some photos taken from the drone on hay cutting day.

This was taken the first summer after we moved into the new house. The grass has not yet completely filled in after the construction. On the left the hay is being cut and left to dry in the field.
Another view of the cutting phase. Once it is dry, it’s raked (which I call “fluffing” since it lifts the hay to let air circulate and finish the drying. The original house, barn and our dog training building can be seen in the upper left of this image.
This is the western twenty acres that we separated for the new house construction.
Our house sits about 160 feet off the road, and we have a large fenced yard for the dogs in back. Besides that mowed yard, the rest of the land is cut for hay twice a year.
Raking (left) and baling (right.)
Here the baler becomes full to capacity, the tractor stops and then the baler ejects the large bale. The activity is barely captured at the bottom of the frame.

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