As cattle ranchers in the northern U. S., we understand intimately the need for quality feed for our animals- HAY- for the cold winter months. Some of the most special times for us in Sib involved our host’s hay operation, and the skills involved in doing everything by hand.
Valerika, on the right. Her neighbor Verika on the left, who spent the day working with two other older women, raking the hay in the neighboring field. We are heading a mile or so from our home, up a different valley where Valerika’s family has more fields. The weather report (watched as carefully here as in Montana’s haying season) had predicted several days of sun. EVERYONE was bringing hay home for the winter- the road outside our house had a continual procession of wagons.
Some wagons were pulled by hardworking horses….
And a good bit by this team of oxen, one of only two remaining teams in the village. Notice that they have muzzles on, so they don’t graze their way into the ditch when they’re hungry! Don’t worry- they’re in great physical condition because their owner keeps them well fed, well shod(they wear iron shoes, split for each toe, like working horses), and very healthy.
But, before the hay can come home (and these piles pictured on the wagons are actually summer-harvested hay, from one of those beautiful haystacks like the one that Florika the cow wanted to eat), it has to be cut, raked, dried, piled, loaded onto the wagon, brought home, and finally loaded into the barn or a close-by stack.
So, off we went with rakes and pitchforks in hand to collect the hay in that more distant field!
We walked up past pig sheds (this one has the local breed in the pen in front of the shed),
and lovely well-tended houses with their corn plot out front. Both the stalks and the corn itself will be fed to livestock during the winter. We arrived at the hay field to find that it had been cut before we arrived, so the alfalfa, clover, and grass was in loose, thin rows. This is what we call “2nd cutting hay”- it’s short, tender, high in protein, and valuable for midwinter feed for the hardest working animals.
The field was damp with dew, so we raked it carefully into tighter rows as you see on the left. That’s a “summer hay” pile in the background, that was brought to the barn later during our stay.
Mark and Kiril rake, with Verika and two friends raking in the field behind them. This is the full width of the “floor” of the valley- there is no other flat ground available that you can’t see. Country like this MUST carry livestock, who can use the steep ground for grazing. There were pigs across the valley to the right, sheep grazing the high hilltops, and the dairy cattle grazed the smaller fields, creeksides, and steep ground that had been hayed earlier in the year.
Once we had raked into rows, napped while we waited for the hay to dry, raked the rows out again to expose the underside of each row, waited again, we finally piled the hay VERY loosely into small piles around the field. Valerika did all the piling- we just brought the hay to her.
Valerika with her special friend Azurel. He came with us for the day, and had fun chasing mice, and barking at all the enclosed dogs as we walked through the village to and from the field. Valerika was wonderful to watch. No wasted motion, and she KNEW how to wield those tools. She can make a hay pile perfectly, with just a plain stick!
The haying work’s done for the day, the field is clear of hay, and a horse and wagon are bringing firewood logs, freshly cut, down from the farmer’s woodlot farther up the valley.