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AMY KIRK: Haying season equals fix-it season for ranchers

The hay fields are ready. The equipment’s been pulled out of storage and greased up. The weather’s permitting hay to be cut. Ranchers are antsy. Their wives have been following them around in ranch pickups with flashers on getting equipment to the fields. It’s fix-it season.

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Like all ranchers, prior to haying, my husband does a thorough inspection of all of our haying equipment. Still, no matter how in-depth balers, windrowers or swathers and rakes get looked over, or how much cleaning up, greasing up and changing of parts gets done, equipment fixing and repairing will happen in the middle of high-production haying. For ranchers, putting up hay is the equivalent to harvest time for farmers. Hay may not be as valuable as a field crop, but it is vital to cow-calf operations, and fix-it season coincides with haying. It’s just part of the gig.

Once an outfit’s in high production mode cutting, raking and baling hay during good haying conditions, everybody’s on high alert to get hay put up before weather or equipment problems brings haying to a halt. When that happens, worries are made, problems are analyzed, and once the root cause has been identified, fixing proceeds until it’s clear that new parts are needed before haying can resume. Phone calls of urgency and panic are made to at least three or four implement and parts dealers in the region. Parts runs near or far are generally done by wives and/or kids. (A tip for all parts runners: never enter a parts store without the old part needing replaced if possible.

It’s insurance against getting home with a slightly wrong replacement part.) Other instances involve kids or wives driving back to the house to see if UPS or FedEx showed up with parts ordered. The mission is to get the equipment repaired with minimal lag time before the next weather or equipment inconvenience hits.

Equipment frustrations stops progress but sometimes also requires intervention. One day last summer, my daughter and I had finished raking a field and headed toward my husband in another field to get our next haying assignment. I knew from a distance that the windrower was broken down because the pickup and welding/tool trailer were parked next to it. The severity of the breakdown was evident by the way our son ran out to meet us before we got to the windrower. He was Dad’s messenger with our instructions, but more importantly, the mediator stopping us from becoming an additional part of the frustration and to avoid hearing how frustrating the problem was. The breakdown was the kind that requires a special language in order to work on.

Before this year’s haying season started, my husband and I made a two-hour parts run to pick up a repaired tractor radiator, and while in town, my husband picked up a few hookers at the same time. Actually, they’re called “strippers,” which are baler parts, but I’ve been calling them hookers just to get a rise out of him -- and made jokes about these “strippers” when he took a worn out baler stripper with him to avoid asking for new ones by name.

Unfortunately, the pre-haying repairs and parts run didn’t count toward our annual fix-it season. The week we started haying our windrower broke down. Hopefully we’ll be set for the season now, but the equipment will determine that.

The good thing about haying season is that every time I’m sent on a parts run, I can always look forward to seeing some of my ranch wife girlfriends doing the same thing.