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The Milk House

0809 PD: Tales of a Hay Hauler: Scouting for new territory

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Columns - Brad Nelson
Monday, 18 May 2009 03:48

Things get interesting when all the areas a hay hauler is familiar with run out of hay and the customers you haul to need more hay before the next year’s crop comes in.

The sheep ranches in eastern Idaho, the Howe area to be specific, were a good late-season source for dairy hay most years. The sheep ranches needed soft, finer-stemmed hay, not that different from what the dairies needed. The usual practice was to keep enough hay on hand so that if it were a late spring, there would still be hay for the sheep. The time of the year that the rangeland opened up for grazing could vary by two months from year to year. The fellows I dealt with would raise their own hay and if the sheep went out early, there could be a fair amount of hay for sale in the late spring.

Somewhere in the mid-1980’s was the big drought in the Midwest. Eastern Idaho had an abundance of hay and the government had a plan in effect to pay the freight on hay from anywhere to the drought-stricken Midwest. I called one of the growers I dealt with most years and arranged for a load of hay. He told me that he was loading trucks going east and that it would be about ten o’clock the next morning before he could fit me in.

I arrived in the middle of what seemed to be a circus. Usually when trucks were loaded in the area, there would be the grapple operator who would lead you to the stack, set the bales on the truck while the driver placed them in order as suited him; not much of a big deal. I arrived to see the grapple (or bale fork) operator and two other fellows loading trucks that were all manner of flatbed freight trucks, obviously not hay rigs.

When the influx of strange trucks began, they found that they had to make sure the freight trucks had the proper equipment to tie down a load of hay. They finally stopped trying to explain why and simply stated that unless the driver could show them rope, chain or cable long enough to tie the load of hay down end-to-end that they would not load the truck.

They had a couple of local hardware stores stock extra hay rope and come-alongs so they could at least tell the novices where to go for the tie-down stuff. The freight haulers would argue that they had a million cargo straps that went cross-wise over the load and that they had hauled everything else on the face of the earth with no problem. The hay growers got over trying to explain anything to the freight haulers about the time they loaded the same hay on the same truck three times before the driver got out of sight of the haystack.

In the middle of one winter, I found what I thought was a marvelous little hay ranch just off of the Snake River in southern Idaho. The hay was green and it had most of the leaves in place. Most areas were snowed in, but the rancher had plowed out his stack yards. The stacks were not tarped, and there was a good eighteen inches of snow on top of the stacks, but it had been cold enough to prevent water damage after the top of the top layer.

The hay itself was only fair in feeding quality, but hay was short and the fellows on the other end felt lucky to at least have something that looked good. I went back to the ranch at haying time the next summer thinking I had stumbled on a good source of hay. It seems that the hay I had hauled out of the snow the previous winter was of the quality it had been purely by accident.

I arrived at two in the afternoon to find every baler on the place out baling. The leaves of the alfalfa were being shattered and blown away by the wind. The stems were still too wet to bale properly. When I pointed out to the owner that he needed to be baling with a little dew to preserve the leaves and at least get them into the bale, he moved his balers to a field cut later than what they were on. He told me that dew-baled hay always molded for him.

Try as I might to explain that he needed to let the hay cure in the windrow until the stem moisture was gone, and then bale it up with a little dew to hold it all together, I could not. About a month later, he called and asked when I was going to come and haul off some of that wet hay I wanted. He wanted me to hurry, because all of the stacks were falling down. I did not even return his call.  PD

 

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