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Lessons From The Hay Field

Written by Sheila Cook

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Sebastian uses 'cutting edge' technology to cut the grass | Summer/Fall 2017

Lessons from the Hay Field

This summer, I spent many hours on the steep, uneven hay fields that surround the Entalhof farm with a wooden hay rake in my hands. It’s some of the toughest physical work I’ve ever done and I really like it. I like the rhythm; I find it rewarding to see exactly what I’ve completed and what’s left to do; and I enjoy that part of it is independent work and part is teamwork.


I also picked up a few life lessons as I was moving hay into rows or piles. I’ll share these with you in this blog.

Let them figure it out

With less than 5 minutes of instruction and some hand waving showing me where I should start, I began my first ever haying experience. As I went along, I watched others to see their technique and how they used the rake with such ease. I learned and adapted so my shoulders didn’t ache quite as much.
In this case I didn’t need a 30-minute instructional video or hours of coaching or 3 books or a university course. Learning by doing made the most sense. Just let them figure out may be the best learning strategy.

Make the most of simple tools

In today’s app-filled world there’s an app for every little thing; there are millions of kitchen, exercise and garden gadgets; and every day my inbox gets filled up with how to live a better life resources. The wooden hay rakes look simple and yet they serve many purposes. They are light and perfectly slanted. The end with the tines, turned over, straightens rows and pushes big piles down the hill. The handle end also effectively moves mounds of hay. Of course, you can always turn the rake over and use it as a walking or resting stick.
You may already have all the tools and resources you need perhaps you could use them to the fullest.

Find your own rhythm 

It’s amazing how much more energy I have when I’m working at my own pace. The gentle reach and drag action is very meditative especially on less steep slopes.
If you can’t find a comfortable rhythm, ask what’s getting the way? Is the task too difficult or outside your knowledge/experience areas? Are you being pressured by an unrealistic timeline? Who can help? Can you explain that you need to move to an easier slope because if you don’t you’ll fall and not be able to contribute at all.
Make hay while the sun shines (you knew that one was coming!) AND
Don’t cut too much grass at one time (the haying version of don’t bite off more than you can chew)
It’s tricky. Farmers need to listen to weather reports, watch the sky and use their instincts to decide when to cut the hay. It is cut one day and then after it dries for a day or two the raking begins, and getting it into the barn quickly is essential. Cut too much and not have enough help and the rain starts early means big trouble. Cut not enough and have a long day of sun and have people without enough to do means extra work the next day.
One evening, Reinhard and I were on our own finishing up what looked like a small field. The others were inside having cake and coffee. Within a few minutes, the sky turned from bright blue to dark grey, we could hear the thunder and then feel the raindrops. We raked like there was no tomorrow. The grass was thick and heavy. We didn’t worry about neat rows. Our only focus was getting the hay down the hill so it could be picked up by the truck before it was soaked. Soon the others came charging back with a neighbour to help. Together, we did it! I can’t remember being so tired or sore.
Sometimes you need neat rows and other times you’ve just got to get it done. Knowing when to be precise and when to be quick takes experience and adapting to what’s coming at you.

Know when to get out of the way

Haying with family members who rake the same fields 3 times a year for decades, develop an unspoken way of working together. I’ve learned when it’s time to load the hay into the truck to get the heck out of the way. No one is going to say excuse me or I’m coming over there next or mind your head I might bop you with my rake. It’s head down and full steam ahead. Also, this is when my hay fever reaches its peak because of all the bits flying about so standing back is wise. 
Be aware of times when you don’t have to be in the thick of things. Take a break and watch others do the work.

Don’t leave anything on the field

This saying applies to hayers as well as athletes. It’s hot, it’s hard, it’s muscle pain inducing – but there’s a real goal – clear the field before dark – and everyone needs to pitch-in. This saying also means be thorough.
Each field is raked at least 3 times in a day to make sure no grass is left behind. It’s amazing the way all the small piles add up and could mean a day’s worth of food for the farmer’s most precious commodity – the cows.
When you think you can’t go any farther, ask yourself what are the consequences of not finishing and not doing my best to make sure every blade of grass contributes to the goal?


When the day’s work is finished, we celebrate with a glass of schnapps and a piece of cake.
It doesn’t take much to say thanks for all you did today. Why wait until a project is over? Celebrate successes, swap stories, and enjoy each other’s company one hay field at a time.

Be ready, because at some point the poop will fly

A few days after the haying round is finished, farmers spread liquid manure on the fields to help the next crop grow. (I haven’t quite figured out the timing.) These are stinky days. Windows must be closed and these are not good days to dry clothes outdoors or have friends over for a BBQ.
How can you prepare for high potential troubles and be ready to switch gears when shit happens, because it will!
Simple Living for Holidays
Martin's motto | No hill too steep, no grass too tall.


So, if you’re sitting on the fence wondering if a trip to SimpleLiving Camps is right for you next year, why not take the first step and get in touch with us. We’re always happy to answer your questions and help you plan.

Happy fall!

Your Camp Rangers,
Sheila Cook & Reinhard Zitzmann

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