Hay making season is here in all its glory. It's thrilling to get a crop of hay put away before it rains and know that the cattle will have good feed for the year. I love the scent of fresh-cut alfalfa and windrows curing in the sun. But you won't find me enjoying these aromas from the seat of a tractor. My role in making hay is limited to reporting changes in the weather forecast.
You see, I'm not very good with equipment. Sure, I can drive a tractor and operate a skidloader when I need to. I can rake and bale hay, too, as long as nothing goes wrong. I've just never been incredibly comfortable around equipment. I'd rather milk cows than drive a chopper box or haul bales.
Part of this discomfort, I'm sure, comes from an incident the first summer I was old enough to drive tractor. I was raking hay on a field shaped like a 4-year-old's drawing of a trapezoid. And I was raking with our new rake - an Allis Chalmers PTO-driven side delivery rake. Dad told me the new rake would trail the tractor differently than our old New Idea rake, but I didn't quite understand what that meant until I got to the sharp corner closest to the river. I turned the corner and the rake's tongue caught on the rear wheel of the tractor.
I didn't notice the problem until the tractor quit moving. Dad explained later that when the PTO-shaft pivoted to a 90-degree angle and couldn't rotate anymore, the torque broke the drive gear between the tractor's engine and transmission. That same drive gear drove both the wheels and the PTO, so when it broke, the tractor stopped.
Not completely understanding what had happened, I scrambled down from the open-station tractor and ran to find Grandpa. Some of the details of the incident have become a little blurry in the years since, but I can vividly remember sprinting across that field and how scared I was to tell Grandpa that I had broke his 1949 John Deere B.
I thought for sure Grandpa was going to be mad. Only after Dad explained what would have happened to me if the drive gear hadn't broke did I understand why Grandpa wasn't mad.
When Grandpa figured out what had happened to the drive gear, he said he could hardly believe it. He had been farming with John Deere Bs since the 1930s and had never seen the drive gear break before. Either I was lucky that day or the old B had finally met its match with the new rake.
I didn't drive a tractor or rake hay for a long time after that. I passed those jobs onto my younger sister and opted to stay in the barn with the cows. My sister developed an enthusiasm for summer's hay making. It was never that way for me as much as it was for her.
I did start raking again after Dad bought the V-rake. And I learned to run the round baler that first summer when Glen and I were farming with my dad. Dad had an old Vermeer baler then. There was no monitor in the tractor to let you know what the baler was doing. You started a bale by weaving from side to side over the windrow, you had to watch to see when the bale was the right size, and you twined the bale by pulling on a rope. Learning to bale with the Vermeer was a major boost to my equipment-operating confidence.
But that next summer we moved to Stearns County and my opportunities to help with haying all but disappeared. First, there are hills here; lots of hills; and I grew up on flat land. Second, the equipment we use here is a lot bigger and a lot more expensive, which makes the possibility of wrecking something a lot more daunting. Third, between the family, friends and neighbors we have here, there seems to be no shortage of experienced tractor drivers willing to help with the hay.
At times I envy the farmers who live for hay-making and tractor-time and wish I was part of the action. But most of the time, I don't. Not everybody can be in out in the field. Somebody has to watch the weather and milk the cows.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 75 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children - Dan, 8, Monika, 6, and Daphne, 2. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.