Although it’s happened to me for many years, I still find the shock of the clocks going back quite significant. One moment you are clinging on to autumn and literally the next day you are in winter – or so it seems to me. There are compensations in winter – not having to water the garden and greenhouse, getting indoors before 10 pm at night, log fires and feeling its that its ok to eat filling winter stews, but the downside of the normally wet and cold short days is not appealing. One way to make it a bit better is to plan ahead and make sure that buildings are ready to take livestock, that chickens have dry day time housing of sufficient size and that all the winter feed is sorted. Mine nearly didn’t happen, by end of August our hay field was still merrily upright and the rain was still merrily falling. Of course we had rather a lot of hot dry weather this year and most people had their hay in the barn, albeit rather low in yield. Not so for us. My partner does not like to cut hay in June as he hates to disturb the ground nesting birds and then in July the road to our smallholding was closed which resulted in a quite lengthy detour, not something to be contemplated with a grey Fergie or elderly International tractor. On top of that Mick was convinced that there must be some more growth somewhere in the grass. So the long hot days rolled on, and the hay stayed where it was making me increasingly nervous. August they say, is a wicked month, I’d say it’s just a wet month and this one was particularly so. By September we were barely on speaking terms about the hay and then one day my daily trawl through the Met Office and Met Check revealed a small window of five days. Bank holiday Monday to about the following Saturday. In the meantime a somewhat laid back Mick had gone to Cheffins Vintage sales and purchased a baler of small bales for the princely sum of £120, just outbidding the scrap man. To my amazement he got it working and announced his intention of using it to bale the field. Quite literally a few days before the break in the weather he bought a second hand hay turner and then he was off….. He cut the hay almost in the rain and then the promised weather came and between him and an excellent friend who brought his baler as well, the hay was made. Making hay is quite a serious skill. You need to do more than hope, you have to turn it and turn it – especially in September when the dew is heavy and the nights are chilly. Two elderly balers roared into action and the result was a very pleasing number of bales which had to be brought in very quickly to beat the weather. So we are sorted for hay and to me it is the single most important factor in a happy winter. Our livestock have become accustomed to more or less adlib, sweet smelling hay and not only does it keep their stomachs healthy but it keeps their minds happy – animals get anxious when they are not able to find something to eat. The feed value may not be that high but that’s great actually as we can feed plenty of it and it’s good for their guts. Around here there have been several hay thefts and with the rumours of the price of hay, I think there will be many more where hay is stored away from home. I’m not convinced the price of hay will stay as high as it currently is but then I also wouldn’t want to take any chances and be buying it in later on in the year. Straw too is at a premium and this fulfils a feed as well as bedding purpose.

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