When I was very young, making hay seemed to last for the whole summer holidays.
There seemed to be no end to the good weather, and it never seemed to get dark. It probably was not like that, but that is how I like to remember it.
My father owned a MF 135 tractor and a New Holland baler for making small square bales. During the summer, he would disappear for weeks at a time – he was gone in the mornings before I went outside and came back when I was in bed.
He used to bale for himself and a lot of other farmers in the local area. He often told me (in later years) that we would not have owned all the land that we do had it not been for the money he earned baling hay.
My mother used to deliver baler twine to him. There were no mobile phones, so she used to drive around the country asking people if they had seen him, until she eventually tracked him down.
As young children, we often went with my mother. When we would find him, he was covered in dust and sweating. My mother often brought tea and food to him. He was always very glad to see us. It was hard work, but he seemed to enjoy it.
In later years, he stopped baling for other people and just did his own. This was fine until a neighbour would come and beg him to do theirs, as they were stuck.
Then someone else would say that “you did his and that you would not do mine”. It was a no-win situation.
After my father died, I kept the baler to do our own baling and it was grand for doing that, but I used to run into the same problems as my father, with neighbours putting me under pressure to sort their hay as well.
I put up with it for a few years, but enough was enough, so I sold the baler and got a contractor in to round bale any hay that I was making.
In any event, it seemed like the weather was getting worse every year and it was becoming more difficult to make hay, so it was time to move on.
Indeed, there were years that we did not make any hay at all. For the 10 years I was in the Countryside Management Scheme (CMS), I had a couple of fields that were classified as species-rich hay meadows. I was not allowed to cut these for hay until after 15 July.
This was probably the final straw in the hay making. Only in two years out of the 10 was there any weather for making hay after 15 July.
It meant I was getting out of the habit of using hay, as I could not get any good-quality stuff.
However, over the last few years, a neighbour has allowed me to cut some of his ground. It is the sort of land that would be more suitable for hay rather than silage.
We have tried hard to make some of it in hay, but most years it is too much of a snatch and grab, so it has ended up as either silage or poor-quality hay.
But this year has been different. The weather forecast was giving a week of good sunny weather at the end of June/beginning of July, so I cut some on the Saturday and the rest on the Monday and the weather did not disappoint.
The really hot days meant there was some hardship, although it was a far cry from what my father had endured. My father had no cab to protect him from the heat and the dust.
It was great to get it all safely baled and into the shed before the rain duly came (as it always does). There is nothing to beat walking past a shed and getting a whiff of good-quality hay, but for me is it also a reminder of the suffering that my father went through.