Getting Up Hay

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Every person in America ought to spend one day, getting up hay. Just one day.

On a blustery, dusty day when the sun burns the ground to 100 degrees and the air is almost too thick to breath. In an old truck without air conditioning or radio. Or walking behind the baler, tossing 50 pounds of dead grass onto the truck. Or driving the worn-out tractor with a baler attached to it that keeps chewing up the twine. Then it breaks down and the tractor store folks say, “We’ll have to order it. Be here in two days.”

Every person from Wall Street to a Hollywood studio lot should try getting up hay when a rain cloud has to be outrun and there’s no time for even a sip of water. When the hay has been cut, waiting to be baled and a thunderstorm will ruin what the sweat of their brow has sowed.

One day in a blistering hay field under any conditions will teach the hardest heart as to why farmers are people of faith. Why prayer is sometimes all that will work because no matter how diligently they turn their hands, it’s out of their hands many times and in the hands of the Lord.

When John Tinker came to the rural South, he knew mostly about suburban life and studio sets filled with facades — the front of a building only, with nothing built behind it. He knew that it can take an hour to go five miles on the 405 in rush hour which usually lasts 12 hours. He knew how to pick out the freshest green beans or ripest tomatoes at Ralph’s Grocery but he didn’t realize what it took to pick the produce from the fields.

Then he moved to a land where people depend mostly on their roughed, calloused hands and a whole lot on the harvest produced by bowed heads and bended knees.

He saw local churches call for special prayer services, crying out to the Lord to send rain for the crops withering in the fields and the cattle thirsty for drink as the creeks dried to dribbles. He was stunned to learn that one cow drinks 30 to 40 gallons of water a day.

As he sat around the family Sunday dinner table and heard the tribulations of the farmers, he was humbled — or “umbled” as saith my Appalachian folks — to learn what all he had taken for granted. Beef prices soared in the grocery stores but fell way short at the auction barn when they tried to sell what they had fed for a year.

“I’ve got about $1.85 a pound in ‘em with feed alone. That’s not countin’ land and labor. They brought $1.10 a pound at the auction last Tuesday. That’s a bad hole to be in.”

He saw the woe in their eyes and the sad shake of their heads as they recollected on all the trouble of raising that head of cattle — the difficult births, the babies raised by hand on a bottle requiring two feedings a day or a case of pink eye that had spread rapidly among the herd.

One told of a bull that got stuck in the mud of what used to be a pond and nearly starved to death before he was found. Then, he commenced on what all it took to haul the 1,200 pound beast from the muddy encasement.

All those billionaires on Wall Street, who make a fortune betting on livestock and grain futures, ought to pull on a pair of jeans and boots and see what the future of farming really is.

Tink has learned well. His respect for the poor ol’ farmer is tremendous. I realized this thoroughly when I read a line he wrote for a television show.

“Farming is more than a business. It’s a way of life — an identity.”

God bless our farmers.

[Ronda Rich wishes to thank longtime friend and farmer, Jerry Truelove, for all his insights into the challenges of farming.]

1 COMMENT

  1. Amen to everything you just wrote. I grew up bailing hay and chopping hay (with a forage harvester for cattle feed) and both jobs were some of the most rewarding jobs there were as young boy on the farm. You knew you were becoming valuable to your family farm when you could be on the hayrack stacking bales as they came out the baler, or when you were big and strong enough to stack bales in the haymow in the barn…….and you never baled hay on 70 degree nice days…..it would always be hot, sweaty, and dusty – but the feeling of accomplishment afterwards was worth it. Thanks for taking this Iowa farm boy on a trip down memory lane!