Spotted! Hay Season

Driving across the Valley floor recently we were greeted with the sweet summer scent of freshly cut grass wafting in our open windows as we cruised past hay field after hay field in various stages of converting green summer pastures into essential winter forage for thousands of cattle, horses, goats, sheep, and probably even an occasional deer and elk.

 

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Tractors crawl slowly along neat lines, mowing, raking, windrowing, and baling as ranchers take advantage of blue skies and warm weather to put up this season’s crop.

Haying is always a bit of a gamble. Once the grass is cut it must cure and dry completely before being baled. Damp hay molds, making it inedible to some livestock, and can even cause fire as the hay slowly decomposes within those tightly bound bales, creating extreme temperatures that can destroy a hay stack and barn in minutes. Additionally, a hard rain while grass is drying in the field strips it of its nutrition, making it far less valuable. Drying usually takes about 3 days, but finding three dry days in a row in our little Valley can be challenging as our rich high mountain grasses reach the perfect peak of nutrition smack in the middle of monsoon season.

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Most of us love monsoon season - the distant rumble of thunder, the life-giving rain, the cool of a damp evening. The spectacular sunsets and the breathtaking lightning shows from towering cumulous as the storms move far out over the eastern plains. But monsoon season also means we typically see almost daily rain, making it hard for ranchers to find a window to successfully cut and bale a good crop before the hay gets too mature.

This year the usual summer monsoons haven’t arrived on schedule, and the weather forecast during mid-July stayed stubbornly devoid of any moisture. While this had some very detrimental effects on our fire season, as we saw with the recent blow up of the Hayden Pass Fire, it’s also a bit of a boon for ranchers, with plenty of bright sunny days to cure all that perfectly ripened grass.

As usual in life, nothing is wholly good or bad, black or white, but always infinite shades of grey.

Suggestions of a late-arriving monsoon plume have started to show recently with several nice rain showers sweeping through during the past weeks, helping to subdue the Hayden Pass Fire, and keeping the ever-present threat of drought at bay - at least for now. Wildflowers still paint meadows from down on the Valley floor to high up on the green mountain tundra, and thunderheads build above the mountains.

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Particularly for those of us who chose a rural life here in this valley, finding ways to keep the land in ranching means more than just protecting wildlife habitat from overdevelopment or a viewshed that is so easily, and permanently, destroyed. It also means supporting the livelihoods of families, friends, and neighbors - folks who rely at least partly on a good hay crop to get them through another year, or two, or ten. So here’s to a robust monsoon season… after the hay is put up.

About the author: Patty Reagin is a freelance writer and a volunteer for San Isabel Land Protection Trust. She lives on and manages Humboldt Peak Ranch, one of the many Valley properties protected by a conservation easement held by SILPT. Spotted is her monthly contribution to the SILPT blog highlighting the beauty of the flora and fauna in our region.  When Patty's not behind a computer working she can be found outside, taking in the beauty of the Wet Mountain Valley with her dogs and horses.

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