bucking hay

The biggest shock to my system as a result of moving my ranch from Tennessee to Southern California has been the weight of hay bales. Back east, we could get hay for somewhere between $4 and $6 per bale, depending on how good the weather was, what kind of field was cut, and whether we picked it up out of the field ourselves or bought it at a feed store. The bales generally ranged from 50-80 pounds. If the weather was good, we could get 3 cuttings from a field per year.

Living in the mountains of Southern California is a very different story. The land is too expensive, arid, rocky, and vertical to grow hay profitably. The water costs alone would put you in deep into the red. Our hay is grown in the Imperial Valley, which is technically the desert. In reality, much of the valley is irrigated and lush with plants. Since the weather never gets too cold, they can grow hay all year and get about 12 cuttings per year. But the bales are huge! In my last load, the average bale weighed 125 pounds. Not only is that well above OSHA's guidelines for lifting, it is also 90% of my body weight! Bucking this hay is more an excercise in maintaining balance than simply lifting. And, of course, the price is also higher, somewhere in the $8-$12 per bale range depending on how you buy it.

Actually, I can't bother buying hay per-bale. I purchase a half truckload at a time. They unload it and stack it in the barn in about 10 minutes using a squeeze. (squeezes are pretty cool machines: take a diesel tractor like they use for freightliners, add a huge forklift to the back, and put a second steering wheel in facing the back. You can move a lot of hay very efficiently.) A half truckload has around 220 bales and weighs between 12 and 14 tons. We pay by the ton. The price will fluctuate based on how much rain the valley gets. More rain results in higher costs because the hay must be protected so that it doesn't mold. As the price of oil has risen, so has the price of hay because of the tractor and transport costs. Here at the ranch, we're going through about 35 tons per year. I would have never dreamed that I would ever see so much hay consumed...

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