Some people would say there are years when farmers just can’t catch a break. This past year seemed like that regarding rainfall and harvesting the fields on our farm. Too much rain on low ground led to wet fields all year-round, instead of just until July. The result was no hay made all year long on 11 acres of hay land.

It isn’t necessarily premium-quality hay we bale, being mostly varieties of grass with some clover. But it suffices for our goat herd. When it comes to harvesting the hay, in the best years the grasses rise over the hood of the tractor at cutting time. That makes it quite thick. In order to not bale wet or moldy hay, there had better be an entire week of sunny dry days in order to bale good-quality hay.

This past year was not a good year to make hay. All throughout the growing season it rained just enough every week to quash any ideas of a quick crop in. We even hoped November would allow us to harvest one crop. Nope. We were so thankful we had reserves in the barn from previous years to feed our animals. The goats weren’t necessarily fond of the hay reserves, but they picked out what caught their fancy. The rest became an increasingly deep plush bedding pack to keep them warm during the throes of winter.

During the early winter I was reminded of the biblical mandate to fallow the land every seventh year. To fallow the land means to not plant or harvest it one year out of seven. The historical purposes were multiple – feed the family and the poor on what just came up, let the soil rest to restore fertility, till but don’t plant to help control weeds or volunteer plants, and give the landowner a rest.

As a result of not harvesting this past year, what had grown was this year long ropes of dead grass lying flat in all directions after the snow melted. That didn’t bode well for the coming harvest. The previous year’s residue would continually plug the haybine when cutting this year. It would also create difficulty for windrowing and baling.

The ideal option was to burn off the previous year’s growth. The local fire department had burned some of our unharvested fields in years past for training purposes. Contacted this spring for a rerun, the night of fire practice it rained. You can’t burn wet land in the rain.

We considered what to do. In farming there are windows of opportunity to accomplish the task at hand. The new growth was beginning to awaken. Time and opportunity to do something was fleeing. At that moment conditions were ideal. The soil was still wet and a cooperative prevailing breeze gently caressed the land. We notified the fire department and the sheriff’s department as to what we were going to do. We then gathered a few children and grandchildren with brooms, shovels and buckets of water to expedite the task at hand.

Our leader had a well-thought-out plan of action. Eight hours later the job was complete – and it was a success. All our clothes and hair were infused with smoke, and we were exhausted. At the time the fields looked like a charred mess, but we were satisfied with the results. Two weeks and several thunderstorms later the greening fields showed no shadow of the procedure.

Maybe we were forced into a fallow year for our own good. Burning off the fields allows the nutrients that weren’t harvested the previous year to return to the soil as fertilizer. And we definitely rested from making hay this past year. We will discover this year whether the hay is better-quality, thicker and easier to harvest as a result of both a year of not harvesting and removing the previous year’s dross. We’re looking forward to longer periods of drier weather in order to once again fill the empty barn with homegrown feed for our charges.

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Married for 42 years, Darlene Stern and her husband have raised a family of nine in rural southeast Wisconsin. She has been a stay-at-home mom, goat herdsperson, dyslexia tutor, midwifery advocate, newsletter creator, manuscript editor, published author, model for professional artists and passionate pursuer of Jesus Christ. Her degree in geography from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville helped raise two National Geography Bee state finalists, one of whom was a national finalist. She finds great delight in short-term overseas ministry trips, writing about her experiences.