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A hay bale a day keeps the animals at bay ... and fed

January 01, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

I'm a bit concerned with the price of gas, yes. But I never imagined I would spend more time fretting over the price of hay.

It's not as if we're real farmers; it's just that our pets are bigger than most people's. Donkeys, horses, alpacas, goats - if we had lived in biblical times, we could have provided Noah with a serious shortcut when he was rounding up inventory.

So, needless to say, the pet food doesn't come from a can, it comes from a bale. And as comforting as the purr of a kitty can be, it is equaled by the sound of the big guys tranquilly munching hay on a still, frosty morning.

Twice a day, Beth and I make the rounds with a wheelbarrow full of the fragrant dried plant life, visiting the animals in order of their nagging. The donkeys are by far the worst. They don't really "hee-haw" in the strict sense of the word, but they belch out a rather horrifying vocal atrocity that sounds as if they are being gutted and fileted by a butcher who hasn't sharpened his knife for a couple of months.

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By contrast, the four alpacas simply hum in a rather whimsical fashion. We read that you can feed 60 alpacas on a bale of hay a day, and maybe you can if the bale is the size of a refrigerator.

All told, we are going through some serious forage. This might not be much of an issue in normal years, but with the drought last summer, farmers were lucky to get one cutting instead of three. So hay this winter is scarce and expensive, making me feel for the people who depend on the commodity for their livelihoods. Prices are going north of $5 a bale, or double that of normal years.

Frankly, I think the Mail Call contributors are missing out on a serious issue here.

"Hi Mail Call, can anyone tell me why hay is 50 cents more a bale in Washington County than it is right across the line in ..."

I saw hay advertised for $2.75 a bale in New York this summer, and if I'd thought about it, I would have rented a tractor-trailer on the spot and become this century's first great hay baron.

I keep waiting for Detroit to start coming out with more hay-efficient animals, but until they do, we are forced to turn to conservation.

We used to just toss a flake of hay on the ground, but this is wasteful. The goats and alpacas in particular will eat some of the hay, but they will also play with it, paw at it, roll in it and sleep in it. As a kid, I heard the term, "Don't play with your food," but I never thought it would one day apply to camelids.

Anyway, to promote efficiency, I bolted a hay feeder to the goat pen and informed Beth of my plans to build a hay feeder for the four alpacas. I floated the idea as a money saver, although privately I was thinking that an actual feeder would cut down on the number of hay rounds we had to make each day, and hence the amount of labor I personally need to invest. (That little scheme didn't work, but never mind for now).

Problem was, I now had to buy some lumber and actually build the thing. And, long story short, construction is not my strength. I hear carpenters say stuff like "measure twice, cut once," but that seemed like a lot of bother, so I'd cut twice as much as needed, never measuring at all, on the theory that one piece of stock or another would at least come close to fitting.

This always resulted in finished products that were not terribly functional but were unspeakably picturesque.

Luckily for me, the feeder plans were not complicated: a few two-by-fours nailed in the shape of a hay bale. Beth really shouldn't have said anything, but like all loyal wives, she saw a need to "boost my confidence" by making the project sound as if I'd just built a three-story beach house.

"Wooowwww. That's really impressive. I am so proud of you." It was the same tone she used on Opie the first time he managed not to go to the bathroom in the house. The miracle was that she stopped before telling me, "You're such a big boy today."

"Thanks," I said. "That and $6 will get you a bale of hay."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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