Writing has always been therapeutic for me. I turned to it when I needed to sort things out or had a creative wave. And farming has always been something to maybe hide a bit from the general eye, as a constant and very large part of my life. So this concept which I hear about from time to time, that of the thought that there are people out there who would be interested in reading my writing about farming? It’s still a strange one for me to wrap my head around.
So here I am farming. And farming is a constant for me. It’s a rhythm, it’s a lifestyle. So a lot of the time when I sit down to write, all these thoughts flood to my mind; why choose coconut oil or organic pastured butter? How to make your own eucalyptus chest rub. What are the repercussions of food coloring in your children’s food? How amazing it is to use peppermint oil to soothe a headache or aches or cramps. Recipes and thoughts on making your own stock. Rarely, does it actually occur to me to write about my day to day as a part of this farm.
But I’m going to give it a whirl.
We’re in the midst of chopping. It’s the first step of haying on our farm, it’s always been the kickoff to summer really. In a good year, chopping starts around Memorial Day and is done by mid-June. By solstice we’re in full blown haying and it’s summer. In a bad year, we can’t start until a bit after the first of June and one year weren’t finished until the 4th of July. That’s bad. We don’t want that.
Here, all we grow for forage is grass. Nothing grows better at 2000′ above sea level and as Dad says, “why fight Mother Nature?” Chopping is the most crucial piece of our forage puzzle. It really sets the stage for our milk production and quality for the remainder of the year. We pride ourselves on our milk quality and the standard we manage to maintain. There are a lot of factors that go into high quality milk production, a LOT, but the contents of the five Ag-bags of haylage are definitively a crucial building block of it.
Grass contains sugars. And cows are drawn to sweet grass. In a similar concept with dandelion greens if you’ve ever harvested them, the bigger the grass is, the less sugar it has. As the grass puts more and more energy into propagating, the stalks become more fibrous, and the nutrients in the plant put their energy and presence into seeds, not the plant. So bigger grass = less protein, less sugar, more fiber, less nutrient content. (Here I could veer off into soil health and nitrogen levels and potassium levels and all that, but we’ll save that for another day) With all these factors the window for chopping the perfect grass to preserve for the winter is tiny in the grand scheme and highly crucial.
Simple enough, right? Except for that whole piece of Mother Nature and her sense of humor. This year, we had a ridiculously hot and ridiculously dry April so we were able to fertilize the fields early and without trouble. And then, just when the grass was in that teeny little window looking all pretty and lush and green? Mother Nature swooped in with a rain cloud. And then another one. And another…
Our lush, sweet, tender grasses, well they’ve gone a little beyond the ideal growing point. Which is a bit of a bummer. Thankfully, we were able to get two Ag-bags done (pictured below) before the rain came again. And rain equals not only rapid grass growth, but super mud in our fields, which can make it VERY tricky to harvest anything. Let alone something within a crucial time period. As with anything else in farming, ultimately you are dictated by factors which you cannot control namely, the weather. It’s a good life lesson; learning to simply take a deep breath and acknowledge that there are some things you simply cannot change. The rain cloud hovering over your farm; no matter how often you scowl at it, curse it, lament it, will not make it go away. It will not bow to your demands. It’s a humbling reality and a healthy one.