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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Who upset Mother Nature?’

Brad Nelson Published on 28 September 2012

Years back there was a TV commercial for a margarine product that used the wordage, “Better than Butter.” It included a scene where “Mother Nature” was offered a taste of both butter and the new, improved “imitation yellow grease.”

When Mother Nature herself chose the new product over butter, she was not pleased. The pleasant day, which appeared to be set in the shade on a sunny summer day, then changed. As a gale force blizzard blew the set away, “Mother Nature” said to all, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”

I don’t know who is to blame but, with the weather patterns the last few months, it appears someone has upset Mother Nature. In the Pacific Northwest there was a nice 10-day window of good haying weather in some areas.

Those who guessed it right got some of the nicest first cutting in the bale we have seen for some time. Those who missed it were treated to rain, heavy rain or severe gully-washing thunderstorms every three days for about three weeks.

After the rain came the summer heat. In one area they were cooking lobster in the swimming pool. The kids don’t need to be reminded to wear shoes outside.

There are reports of seeing a dog chasing a cat – and they were both walking. I saw a cat find a spot of cool shade. It laid down and spread out, covering most of a square yard. There is something strange about cats. They never appreciate those who try to cool them off with a spray from a water hose.

On the subject of a water hose, I had to instruct the grandson to squirt the water into the bare dirt before he watered the flowers because the hot water in the hose would harm the flowers.

Note that when camping in the summer, the sun will heat the water in a hose adequate for a quick shower. This helps when you have running water with no water heater. And it beats a spit bath from a kettle over the fire.

You do have to figure out your own method to make such a shower private, but you are all big boys and girls now – make something work.

On the subject of showers, there is a developed campground west of Cle Elum, Washington, that has hot showers hiking distance from more-or-less primitive camp sites.

The facility hosts both Boy Scout camping and summer girls’ camps. Visiting with the camp manager, he made this comment. “Sometimes the girls will walk up here for a shower twice a day. The boys? If we see them here once during the week, it’s an event.”

An area in the Grandview and Bruneau, Idaho, area has naturally hot water wells, enough that this is a major source of irrigation water. It also provides the warmth for a year-round hydroponic tomato growing farm.

We noticed that the ditches running hot water to the fields did not take the shortest route to the fields. The water needed to cool down before it came in contact with the crops.

Even with the meandering route, the headlands of the alfalfa fields were bare of most vegetation for 10 to 15 feet from the ditch that watered the field.

When we trucked hay from that area south into Nevada and basically lived in the trucks for a week at a time, we discovered a concrete diversion box, about 10 by 15 feet in size, that was flowing with hot water about three feet deep.

We soon scheduled ourselves to be there loaded, use the scales on the ranch to weigh our loads – and then surround the diversion box with loaded hay trucks and enjoy a hot bath. We named the place “The Bathtub Ranch.”

As part of this year’s summer heat were the inevitable days with warm nights with wind that kept the dew from coming in. With the second-cutting alfalfa lying on dry ground, and the weather forecast for more of the same, hay growers ran out of options and hay was baled dry.

One grower commented that the buyers complain about the dryness of the hay without realizing what the weather conditions were.

My only words of consolation were that you cannot control Mother Nature. It really does help, however, if the hay grower understands what optimum leaf retention is and how immensely it improves the quality of alfalfa hay.

More often than not, baling hay is a balancing act. I believe it was Dave Miller, of Royal City, Washington, who coined the phrase, “5 percent hay.” Five percent hay is the kind of hay you talk about after putting up any of the other 95 percent.

I once accused a dairyman of saving a bale of hay from some of the “5 percent” hay he once received to compare to incoming hay – knowing well that it may be 10 years before anyone had the weather conditions and the expertise to make that kind of hay again.

Add the continuing Midwest drought to the weather picture. In the Pacific Northwest we saw alfalfa being taken out to plant corn, wheat and beans. The prices for these commodities made them seem a better choice for return on the farmland.

One feedlot operator stated, “18 percent protein hay is cheaper feed than 15 percent hay even when it costs more per ton, when you add in the costs to add that protein from other source.” Balancing a ration always was an issue of economics.

Survivors are flexible. Note that when a gale-force wind uproots a tree, the grass growing by it is undamaged by the wind. I called on a local dairy earlier this year to see what their needs were in the way of hay.

They told me that unless the hay was a real bargain, they would not be interested. They had moved to a ration that used very little dry hay. Various silages, cannery waste and greenchop made up the bulk of the ration. That can change.

Recently, I overheard an interesting conversation. A fellow who hauls quite a bit of hay to dairies mentioned a change. With the price of corn and protein supplements going through the roof, he is getting calls from dairies searching for high-test hay.

This is a major turnaround from the requests from just weeks ago for “Just decent hay that’s not spoiled and that is cheap.”

It’s very interesting to see alfalfa hay moving back to its real niche as a protein source. I hope Mother Nature is happy.  FG