Hay. It’s the essence of everything good about farming. Hay is simple and unpretentious, but it’s a staple for just about every type of livestock. The day that I found my “hay guy” I knew I was really a farmer. A farm without hay, after all, is just goofin’ around! To have a regular hay guy is akin to finding a great doctor or dentist – you brag about them to everyone, but you’ll be damned if you’re likely to share.
Good hay is sweet, it smells like freshly mowed candy and evokes daydreams of lying flat on your back in the middle of a summer field, butterflies and cicadas swirling in a psychedelic dance with the sky overhead. Although the green is mostly gone, it doesn’t look dry or bland. Fresh hay compares to a properly aged wine- you can read its complexities and its worth without ever having to touch it to your lips. Which is a good thing, because humans are not really equipped to digest hay, as tempting as it may smell.
Hay doesn’t lie. Hay embedded with dust and mold is obvious. It is lackluster in tone, reeking of mildew and must. It won’t try to pretend that it’s palatable. At $3 a bale, bad hay doesn’t make you feel guilty when you turf it into the compost – it IS your animal’s tummy, after all. A whole bale of hay costs less than a cellopak of lettuce. Now THAT is a deal.
When your barn is freshly stocked with hay, the temptation to set up camp and sleep on the scratchy bales is real. Hay is comfortable and nesting and safe. Nature’s mattress. Unfortunately, it’s also invasive. Long after you’ve retired from the barn for the night, itchy sticks of hay turn up in the oddest places. The more difficult or less appropriate it is for you to scratch a spot, the more likely it is you’ll find a piece or two of hay there. Hay will work its way into your shirt and your pants like a teenage boy with something to prove. Fortunately, hay is a little smoother and it won’t brag about how far it got to its friends.
Having a loft stocked with hay is like having a bank account filled with savings. It is piece of mind, it allows you to feel like a provider. It is insulation for the barn and the bellies, a larder of the barest necessities, and insurance that nobody will ever starve.
In a world where every food we buy contains a list of ingredients, where manufactured pet foods are enhanced with shellac and ash and filler, it’s nice to know that there’s still something out there like hay, a nourishing bargain that you can roll in first and dole out to your critters later. Try doing that with frozen pizzas or Cheetos… I dare ya!