mistake could cost you your life,” says Hoffbeck. “Farming was and still is one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States because of the nature of the equipment and the fatigue of long working hours.”
Still, Hoffbeck recalls the era with some nostalgia: “Haymaking in those days was part of the seasonal rhythms of the everyday life of the farmer. To grow up on a farm meant you knew what life was about.t. You were in touch with life, yourself and your family. Youu worked alongside each otherer and you spent more timeme with your family.”
Haymaking has come a long way since the time when each village and town raised and cut its own supply by hand. Today, hay is the third largest agricultural crop grown in the United States, behind corn and soybeans. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 55.7 million acres of land are used in hay production, and the total crop exceeds 119 million tons per year, most of which is used domestically to feed cattle, small livestock and the horse industry. And beyond round and square bales, our choices have been expanded to include hay that has been chopped and compressed into cubes, pellets and other forms.
These days, hay production is becoming much more of a science. “For horses, small square bales should have between a 13 to 17 percent moisture content,” says Mike Rankin, a crop and soils agent with the U University of Wisconsin. “This“insures the hay wo won’t support
m mold growth.” Some farmers are adding preservatives to prevent mold and bacteria. “Propionic acid alone or in some combination with another organic acid such as acetic acid are the most common hay preservatives,” says Rankin. “An organic acid, it works by inhibiting growth of aerobic microbes within the hay, reducing microbial respiration, accumulation of heat, dry matter loss and reductions in nutritive value.”
And yet, there is still some art to growing hay as well. No matter how advanced the science of growing, cutting and harvesting hay, a good crop still comes down to the right balance of rain and sunshine: “The problem has been, and likely always will be, the weather,” says Rankin.
Hay may not be the most glamorous of topics. “But,” says Hoffbeck, “there is a certain beauty in the commonplace. After the clover has been mowed and the hay harvested, the plant will grow again. There is a time after the mowing when there seems to be nothing there---but the roots are growing deep and the plant is still alive b beneath the surface of the gro ground. When you can ta take good care of plan plants and animals you can take good ca care of people.”