RAPLEJE, Mont. — Life for a Montana agriculturalist is defined by seasons, but not in the traditional sense. Instead of fall there is harvest, instead of winter there is feeding, spring is really calving and planting season, and summer most often means haying season.
The end of June saw the first cut beginning to lay down all across the state, and now the time has drawn nigh for Tyler and Cali Rooney.
“We are starting to see blooms on the alfalfa,” Cali reported during a phone update on June 22.
The Rooneys like to begin cutting their alfalfa when they first start seeing signs of blooming because it ends up timing out just right by the time they harvest the whole hay crop. All and all, Cali and Tyler, and Cali’s mom, Jodi, will cut and bale about 300 acres of grass/alfalfa. From there, they will have about 250 acres of pea/triticale, 50 acres of some millet and around 100 acres of wheat to cut.
Tyler and Jodi will run swathers while Cali follows behind on the baler. The Rooneys’ swathers have conditioners and double windrow attachments, which has allowed them to eliminate the need of a raker. Once Tyler wraps up his duties on the swather, he hops into a stacking truck until the end of haying season.
While Tyler and Jodi have fairly straight forward haying schedules, as the baler, Cali often has to sacrifice sleep to ensure she is baling the best quality hay.
“I like to bale when there is some moisture on the hay so that I don’t lose the leaves, so I usually start baling at 4 o’clock in the morning,” Cali explained.
Cali has spent season after season, hour after hour, running her tractor and baler, making her a very seasoned operator. Even so, Cali will be the first to admit, staving off boredom during the long, grueling hours on the tractor is a difficult task.
“I listen to a lot of music and I eat a lot of snacks. I try to focus on making perfect bales because if I get distracted, I’ve been known to make cone shaped bales and then I get teased. I have to step out and change my net wrap every 200 bales, so that gives me something to do,” Cali said with a laugh.
Tyler and Jodi will go to work first cutting the hay, and depending on weather and hay quality, Cali will follow suit a couple days later. As of June 22, the Rooneys were debating on when exactly to dive the swathers on into the hay.
“They are predicating rain on Thursday (June 25), so we are trying to decide whether we should start cutting tomorrow morning (June 23) so we can at least get a little baling done before it rains or if we should wait until after,” Cali said.
The debate of when exactly to start haying has plagued farming couples for time immemorial. There are pros and cons no matter what is decided, so Tyler and Cali must carefully weigh each option. In addition to deciding the exact start date of haying, the Rooneys will be turning their bulls in with the cows around the first of July, most likely after they have started cutting. Juggling how and when to get bulls dispersed adds another fun layer to all the decision making.
Cali said haying season is filled with long hours and little sleep, crock pot meals and copious amounts of dust and sweat. In spite of, or maybe because of the glamour of it all, the Rooneys wouldn’t have it any other way.