Putting Out Bales

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

This is the time of year we move as flock and farmers from pasture to barnyard. Our work moves from field to barn, and everything left unfinished will be waiting when the ground thaws in spring.

The pastures are brown and the sheds are full of the huge round bales from our hay pastures. Our second cutting was especially good, thanks to the neighbors who cut and bale our fields. We're putting those bales out now. They smell like the sweet, spicy tobacco of a fresh pack of cigarettes. A smell that surprises me a little bit every night as I pull down loose hay to fill in the edges of the feeder.

Putting out bales is a process. We use an old Ford pickup and a steel cable. Four-wheel drive and physics. It's easier with two, but often it's just one of us. It takes seconds to move a round bale with a fork on a tractor, but it takes years to pay for a tractor. So we drive the truck into the barnyard and unhook fences and back up to a bale. Loop the cable round the back of the bale (good luck throwing it). High if we want to flip it, low if we want to pull it. Then hook it to the trailer hitch.

Back in the truck, rev forward across the frozen ground, through the thick mud, across whatever variety of earth the temperature of the day brings. Sometimes the cable slips off. Too high. Too low. Once I got it wedged under a bale so tightly we recovered it only after the bale was eaten.

Next, cutting the twine and pulling, pulling, pulling and wrapping. Pulling and wrapping it around hands, arms, trying to collect and contain it. My sister ends up with a clean, smooth coil of orange twine. Mine looks like the hair of a giant ginger-haired doll whose child is fond of dragging her through the mud and long ago gave up on combing.

One quick check to make sure every strand is removed, and now, finally, the hauling and setting up of the hay cages/feeder. Heavy fence panels strung together with spiral stakes. It's heavy. Cumbersome. And with one person, hard to stretch around a bale as tightly as it should fit.

By now the sheep are here. They caught on halfway through and one started the alert that carried back through the flock. An urgent baaing. Then a turn toward home. Slowly at first and then a run, catching stragglers along the way. Now they're crowding in, budging me out.

I can move two bales within a half hour. I did it on Sunday. But don't count on this. Any number of things will happen. A tire could go flat. I might forget the knife for cutting the twine. A cable might get stuck. Things happen that I could not anticipate or imagine. It's part of the frustration and part of the fun.

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