making hay fit in our stable duck bedroom at PumpjackPiddlewick

As it is raining, it’s a good day to muse on making hay. And straw. Except making straw doesn’t have the same ring to it. Or the same connotation.

And so now I am curious. Not just about hay, but phraseology. ‘Making hay while the sun shines’ is a proverb that actually comes from medieval times. (I just looked it up.) It’s meaning always has been: make the most of opportunities whilst you have the chance. So, this past weekend, I did. Finally.

You see I have been on the search for hay since October. Why so long? Because it has been darn difficult to find. Not actually find, but find near us. Where we live is hilly. It looks a bit like England, including hedges. So lots of pretty fields, with cows. And if not cows, then vineyards. A very nice mix. But not really conducive to making hay. Or straw.

East of us the land flattens out into what was once an ancient seabed (and we have some fossils to prove it) and prime agricultural crop land. And vineyards. This is where they grow the wheat and hay mostly. And all the searching has made me realise that I would have to drive about half an hour to an hour to collect any straw (or hay). And no one will deliver from that far. I can hear some of you say ‘but that is not that far’. My response, have you ever tried to drive with 5 bales of hay stuffed in your car and tickling your ears?

But why the obsession with hay (or straw). Ducks of course. Straw is the preference over hay for ducks. My preference, too. It is more resilient to wetness (a very very common theme amongst ducks) and it’s great for the garden.

We use if for keeping them warm in winter. It then morphs into wonderful nesting material come spring. Once ‘used’ (read: duck poop) it goes on the strawberry and asparagus beds, providing protection from frosts. It fertilises whilst also suppressing weeds too.

Now you all know I love anything that does double duty, so if it can do even more it is definitely worth the thought, search and eventual finding of. Except it has taken me 5 months and it’s hay instead of straw. And that is because it turns out there is a farmer making hay locally.

Purely by chance I searched for hay (foin) instead of straw (paille) on facebook marketplace. Next thing I knew, I had found someone from our village offering bales.

To get a little technical here, as I am sure you are gripped at the concept of all things straw and hay, they come offered either in round bales or rectangular bales. The round bales are huge and heavy and not something we would be able to transport, let alone store.

In the past I have bought small rectangular straw bales. You know the sort you see in movies, that people sit on at rodeos and such. They are about a meter/yard by a half. Easy to pick up and easy to store.

And then there are larger rectangular bales, of hay, it turns out. Densely packed and weighing 300kg (600lbs). Specifically with horses in mind. And the odd rabbit. We duly measured our trailer and found it would just, just fit.

We took ourselves off on Saturday to collect. It was originally planned earlier in that week, but it was raining. And as we now know, making hay is best done when the sun does shine. So sun duly shining this past weekend, the tractor lifted the very large bale in to our trailer and we brought it home.

Thus ensued two hours of putting our old horse stable to its actual use, sans horses. Since we had no tractor to lift the bale at our end, let alone the space in our courtyard, the bale had to be separated (luckily easily) into thin slabs and then hoisted out of the trailer and put in the ducks bedroom, aka the stables.

First some was loosened to cover the floor. More was then stuffed in the cat carrier bedrooms. Then the stacking began. The bale seemed to get larger as we unpacked it and stacked it, ending up with two towers of hay inside. At least they created nice cosy spaces for the ducks. And the cats, who it turns out love hay even more than the ducks (who definitely prefer straw, sigh). They were all very keen to help us by climbing and sitting on the stacks to inspect our work.

And when the stacks got too high to hoick up another layer. The very ancient hay trough was put to its original use and more hay stuffed in behind, around and on it. This was of great delight particularly to Lappy, who promptly decided to investigate how far into the trough and hay she could burrow.

So now we have a stable duck bedroom jam packed with hay. It will certainly take a long while to work our way through it. And in the meantime, I hope our ducks appreciate their new cosy quarters. Though all they seem to want to do at the moment is play outside in the rain.

If you have never heard a happy duck, enjoy. This is what it sounds like when they ‘find’ straw.

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