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Tales of a Hay Hauler: When it feels right

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 29 March 2019

Anybody out there remember Germade? It’s a breakfast cereal made from wheat, just a bit coarser than Cream-of-Wheat. Growing up, it was preferred to oatmeal, which we sometimes had. It came home from the store in bags – cloth and finally paper.

Mom would keep a canning jar filled, from which the family cooked the breakfast gruel.

The cooking procedure was to bring water to a boil, with salt added. How much water depended on how many you were cooking for. For our family, it was about a 2-quart saucepan about three-quarters full. With the water boiling vigorously, the Germade was poured in from the canning jar slowly and evenly while stirring the boiling water vigorously. When you could feel the mixture thicken slightly, by the feel of the stirring spoon, it was enough Germade. The granulated wheat would swell as it cooked, similar to cooking rice.

Then you would reduce the heat and keep stirring, since the family would make rude remarks should the one cooking the mush ever produce a lumpy product. The nature of the beast was that, as it thickened, the steam from boiling would form mini volcano-like orifices that would spit boiling hot drops of paste at you. The removal from heat and continued stirring controlled this.

As my mother taught me to make the mush, nothing was ever measured.

“About that much water,” she’d say as the pan was filled.

Salt (I’m guessing about half a teaspoon) was measured into my cupped palm. “About that much,” she’d say, as it flowed from the salt carton. And the Germade itself, poured slowly, was accompanied with, “Until it feels right as you stir it.”

If it came out too stiff, water was added and stirred in. The solution was more complex if it was too thin. After the initial pour, adding dry Germade would always form lumps. The solution was to mix some Germade with cold water into a slurry and then stir this into the hot mixture. It was served as you would serve oatmeal, with sugar (brown sugar on occasion) and milk or cream.

Most of my cooking remains without measured ingredients or “until it tastes, feels or looks right.”

With this background, it’s easy to understand when a hay grower talks of baling hay “when it’s right.” A combination of stem moisture, dew moisture, moisture from the bottom of the windrow, “Is the dew coming in or going off?” and, of course, “Is that cloud going away or coming this way with rain?” all figure into the equation of “right.”

As for the reading on the moisture meter as the baled hay leaves the baler? You’re safe baling with slightly higher moisture if it’s dew moisture than if it’s stem moisture. Stem moisture has a nasty habit of hiding from the moisture meter deep inside the stem and then oozing out over the next several hours or days to raise the “real” moisture level above the safe zone.

The big boys usually advise that if you’re in doubt about the hay being dry enough to bale, go fishing today and bale the hay tomorrow.

You want the leaves in the bale and not left in the field. It looks and feeds better if they’re attached to the stem. That means some moisture has to be there. But to miss on the judgement call and have the hay mold in the bale is worse than lumpy mush – even worse than mush someone forgot to salt.

Mechanical adjustments sometimes come with a “range” dimension with a maximum and a minimum, with anything in between being “serviceable.” Other specs (like adjusting valves on an engine) call for .010 inch of clearance. This is set with a feeler gauge (a flat piece of metal that is .010 inch thick). Now, do you have to force the gauge between the rocker arm and the valve stem or does it “slop-fit?”

This is where the mechanic’s “feel” for what he’s doing comes into play. That’s why one man can set the valves on an engine, and it sounds like a well-oiled sewing machine running, and another can also set the valves “to the published specs” and have the engine sound like it’s just kinda rattling on.

Apprentice programs used to be the norm and still are in select professions. It takes a number of years for an apprentice electrician or plumber to move from apprentice to journeyman. But in those years, he or she will learn the “feel” for something being “right.”

Another example is a hay hauler reading the road conditions and deciding if it’s safe to run “barefoot” or if “steel tennis shoes” (tire chains) are needed. If the temperature has been 15 degrees below zero for three days, and the road is glassy with compact snow and ice, and you have a straight shot and some weight on the drive axles, barefoot will usually be safe. The truck tires will be trying to freeze to the ice at that temperature – a condition the big boys call “sticky.”

But on the same road, with the sun out and shining on the ice, with water starting to run on its surface, the most gnarly ice chains money can buy may not be enough.

How do you tell when you’ve made the leap up from being an apprentice? When the “big boys” start asking you how to do stuff.  end mark