On a clear night I remember… hauling hay

Joyce Whitis

It was a clear night. The distant sounds of iron gates closing behind the milking herd reached my ears as I sat on the porch, white paint pealing from the arms and rungs of my wooden rocker. I rocked slowly, listening and remembering. It’s been many a year since I, still with both my original knees and before arthritis twisted my fingers, used to leave our house, race with one of the dogs across the calving lot and be at the dairy barn in time to help pen the cows.

They would be calling, the cows would, and I could pat each broad back and call out their names. With just a little study I would come up with the production record, sire, and the bull each cow was bred to. We were doing it artificially even back then with ideas of building an ever better, more productive, higher producing herd of registered Holsteins.

Milking the second shift became my job description after a night of surprising a milk hand mistreating a prize cow.

“You don’t beat one of our cows,” I shouted at him and he was packed up and gone in the morning. I had to take up the slack. Until then I had not milked many cows. What I liked to do was ride a horse bareback through the stand of liveoaks and drive the herd home to the milking barn. Now I had to learn how to attach milkers, know when to take them off, recognize and report cows in heat, wash the equipment, be able to detect mastitis, or other sick cows, and on a moments notice conduct dairy tours from visiting tourists.

The concept was awesome, but not being one to slack off, I pulled on shorts and a tank top and jogged across the pasture with my Great Dane, Atilla. For the following two years, Atilla waited outside the barn for a couple of hours nightly while I extracted milk from our best cows and then ran back home across the pasture, in the dark.

It was a fine time. Both dog and I were in great shape and we enjoyed our time with the cows. I generally gave Atilla a gallon of milk which kept his bones full of calcium and as for myself, I was in the best shape of my life. All that exercise and running were great for my constitution.

Time moved on across the acres of Coastal Bermuda greening up in the warm spring days, binding into short rectangular bales in the early summer and withering away in the blast of August if rain didn’t come. Still if rain came on even an irregular schedule, the meadow could be filled with pretty bales ready to be hauled into the barn.

Ah yes….hay hauling. It was often my job to find hay haulers.

“Now, Joyce it’s supposed to rain in a couple of days. We’ve got hay on the ground. Get me some haulers!”

Those orders came from a stressed husband who had milked too many cows and fixed too many fences in a day. I got on the phone and began calling. At times I got desperate because of the need to get that hay out of the field and into the barn before those dark clouds over in the west built up into a flood. That’s why one time I hired four long haired beer drinking bubbas to haul in our hay.

They were brothers but each had his own pickup and they came roaring into the backyard just before lunchtime on a hot July day back in ‘71. Everybody around the place was off somewhere except me so I wiped my hands on a dishtowel and went out to meet our “hay haulers.” They went right to work on a field loaded with new cut hay and from my kitchen window, I watched the storm clouds built up across the back pasture.

The pickups came and went to the field on a regular basis as each of the brothers loaded hay in the field and unloaded in the big hay barn we had just finished. During my regular work around the house, I noticed that they gathered beneath a giant pecan tree in the middle of the field and spent some time there every now and then. And then they were down in the barn, all four of them, and they were shouting at each other. About that time I loaded up my son’s 4.10, called Atilla in the house and locked the outside doors. Still I kept a little crack in a window nearest the hay barn open and put my ear to that crack.

I recognized the voice of the oldest boy.

“Now I don’t care if it is hot and you are drunk as a skunk, we said we’d haul this lady’s hay into the barn and we damn sure will. So just get your butts in your trucks and go get that hay or else I’ll whip you all over this barn!”

I took the safety off my shotgun and Atilla, whose massive body was plastered against my left leg, growled softly from deep in his throat.

There was a short scuffle down in the barn. I watched as dust flew out the open door, but within minutes each brother got in his truck and headed back to the hay field.

They finished with the hay just as the first drops of rain began to fall. Tom was back home by then so he thanked them and paid them off. Three of the trucks peeled rubber when they left the yard but the biggest brother took time to lean out and wave his hand. I had to restrain myself from throwing him a kiss.