Spring 2017 was full of rainy days and beautifly mild temperatures. It was perfect hay growing weather in the bluegrass. There was ample grass for freshly shorn shorn sheep and I even had to watch a couple ewes that seemed to be getting a little round with the abundance.
As mid-May approached thoughts of hay mowing time started to enter my farmer mind. That first cut of hay is a sense of security that says "no matter what happens this summer, at least I will have the first cut up in the barn." This year's lush green grass promised to be a bumper crop and the red clover, lespedeza, and other grasses were all coming on strong. In addition, no high-wind, hail-producing storms had rolled through to knock down the beautiful tall grass. Perfect!
When it is time to cut hay, lots of things have to happen. Usually a 3-4 day window of fair weather is needed ("make hay while the sun shines"), equipment needs to be in working order, schedules need to be cleared and help lined up. The weather alone is a fickle enough variable, not mention the other factors that need to fall in line with the weather. This is a yearly occurrence and I do marvel every season as the barn door closes on a loft full of bales or a shed full of hay rolls. It is nothing short of a miracle that it has been accomplished. It makes me think of a veterinarian I worked for who used to say "I love it when a plan comes together!"
As May's schedule mapped out with festivals, teaching classes, sheep shearing, out of town trips, house guests and the unavailability of help, the perfect weather windows came and went. I watched, as I was gadding about, acres and acres of beautiful fields of gorgeous hay being mowed, "fluffed" into rows and rolled or (knife to the heart) baled into dreamy winter security........ I know those traveling with me would tire of hearing me say repeatedly, "Look! They are mowing their hay! Oh what a great hay crop this year! I'm not mowing my hay!"
As the stars continued to not align for this year's first cut of hay NOT to be "put up", talk started to turn to the inevitable. We were not going to get a first cut and the only possibility was to bushhog the nicest hay field we had seen in years. Mow down, chop into little pieces the grass - the insurance that sheep will eat this winter. It was the only thing we could do. Without time or resources to produce a miracle, this was going to be the reality.
As painful as this was, I recalled a story that the old timers told me when I first moved back to my family farm several years ago. My Grandpa Delk was a good farmer but sometimes he was a bit unconventional. One time, they say, he had an amazing "stand" of hay that he decided to mow under for fertilizer instead of harvesting it for hay. As he cut the hay field "it would hardly fall over it was so thick". Folks around marveled. I don't know if this story is truth or has morphed over the years into a "John Henry" legendary tale. But it gave me some solace and took the sting away with some justification that maybe it was OK and not too much of a sacrilege to mow the first cut of hay.
The rest of the story? About 20 acres of waving, green goodness was bushhoged to the ground. The slicked off fields turned an Irish emerald green after the first few rains which was a handsome sight to behold. The grass was turned over in time for it to seed/fertilize the ground for another day. There is still the promise of a 2nd or perhaps a 3rd cut of hay this year.
Farmers like my grandfather lived by his wits, knowledge, ingenuity and faith in the Almighty. I'd do well to follow that lead. After all, Tomorrow is another day.