Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November Rain Brings Hay Pain

When it comes to the horses, hay is our biggest expense and I spent hours and hours searching the countryside for the best quality bales I could find. It wasn't fun, and I accidentally offended a local Mennonite farmer in the process. Finally though, I found exactly the kind of nutritious, fine, soft hay that Murray needs to keep his weight up and his lungs clear. Only now, I'm watching hundreds of dollars worth of hay morph into moldy, dusty, useless lumps...and there's nothing I can do about it.

Late July
It's a warm Saturday afternoon day when our first load of hay arrives. It's first-cut. It's very good quality, but it's coarse, and it has a fairly low protein content. It's exactly the kind of hay that would cause Murray to turn up his nose. However, it's perfect for Maggie, an overweight mare who eat absolutely anything. Unfortunately, I'm at work, so it's up to Dave to hoist the bales from our bright yellow hay conveyor. When I get home, I assess his work, and I'm impressed. Two hundred and fifty bales are stacked neatly in the back portion of the loft.

Late August
The call comes that the second load of hay is ready for delivery. This is the expensive hay-- Murray's hay. It's second-cut, high in protein, bright-green, sweet-smelling, and very fine and soft. Unfortunately, Dave and I are in Newfoundland. We can't be there to accept the load. So, our horse/house-sitter kindly offers to offload the hay for us... with the help of her friend who's visiting from Germany (some vacation).

I feel for them. Loading hay is hard work in any weather, but this is the hottest week of the summer in Nova Scotia. Daytime temperatures are in the low to mid 30's. Nights are just as warm. Humidity is through the roof.

The hay arrives on a sunny, sticky weekday afternoon. We thought the loft would be able to hold all the hay. At most, we figured the last few bales could be stored in a spare stall next to Murray. But the girls filled the loft and there were still many bales left on the truck. The girls filled the spare stall to the rafters. Still there were more bales to offload. They had no other choice but to put some of the hay in one of the newer stalls-- a stall with cinder block walls. A stall which oozes with mold-inducing moisture anytime it's rainy or humid. The girls did everything right. They stacked the hay neatly and they kept the doors and windows open for ventilation.

By the time I got home though, and by the time hurricane Earl whipped up the winds and brought still more humidity to the air, several of the cinder block-stall bales were starting to turn black and moldy. Dave and I moved a few things around and hoisted as many bales as we could from the stall up to the loft. We lost about two dozen bales, but we weren't overly concerned-- especially when we found out that our hay suppliers had sold us 120 more bales than we'd planned to buy (no wonder they wouldn't all fit in the loft). The rest of the hay looked great. And it continued to look great until about two days ago.

Early November

With the exception of two days last week, It's been raining steadily for the past two weeks. During that time, we've had close to 300mm of rain. On top of that, the temperatures have been unseasonably warm, and even when drops of water aren't falling pounding down from the sky in the form of rain, they're sitting heavily in the air causing everything to become sticky and wet. The high humidity is exaggerated in the barn where moisture oozes through the relatively new cinder block walls, and drips from the corrugated plastic roof over Murray and Maggie's heads. Nothing in the barn seems to stay dry in this weather.

Despite the moisture in the barn, the hayloft above (with its wooden floors and walls) stays much dryer. It also has very good ventilation in the form of spinning roof vents. Even so, I check the hay regularly, for signs of mold. All was fine until two days ago.

Two days ago I went into the loft to throw down some more bales of Maggie's hay. I picked up a bale and noticed tiny white spores on several of the stalks-- mold. I reached for another bale and yanked it to the floor. It fell with a thud and a cloud of white dust rose around it-- mold. I started checking more and more bales and I started finding more and more mold. My stomach sank. I tossed several bad bales down the chute-- destined for the manure pile. But how many more are up there? There's no way to know.

I hoped at first that the problem was confined to Maggie's hay, but as I delved further into the neatly stacked pile, I found a few of the once rich, soft, sweet-smelling, expensive Murray bales also covered in tiny, sour-smelling white spores. My hay is going bad and I don't know what to do. Because we accidentally bought extra hay, we have a cushion. But it's only November, and I don't know whether that cushion will fill Murray and Maggie's bellies until next July.

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