They say that when you stack hay too wet, it can heat up. If it’s stacked tightly, it can heat up a lot and, with the introduction of oxygen, spontaneously combust. Not a great thought to have when picking up heavy, occasionally green, sometimes quite wet-feeling hay on Christmas Eve. Not a pleasant thought at all.
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10 Jan 2012 - 3:59 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Some of our hay, in fact, most of it, was dry enough to bring in and safe to stack. But with rain forecast and Christmas Day planned on Bruny, we didn’t want half our 500 bales left out in the rain. The hay carting had suddenly been brought forward two days, so all the plans of a barbecue and a team of people to help haul it in suddenly became two people in their late forties, and one in his late thirties. With hay fever. A tough job suddenly became seriously hard yakka, to be done within a seriously strict time limit. Rain due by 8pm. We started hauling and stacking at about 5.

We brought in most of the bales by the time it started spitting. But exhausted and hungry, seeing the neighbour’s ute and trailer come down the driveway, with two strapping young blokes riding on the back, was like watching the cavalry arrive just as we were about to retreat. Together, we brought in everything that wasn’t too green, just as the rain struck. Heavy rain, too – fat, drenching drops that almost spoilt the Cygnet Christmas parade.

It wasn’t the rain that spoiled the hay. It was grass too wet to bale. It came from a stagnant paddock which had uneven growth, there was also condensation coming up from the ground, and the only solution was to restack the pile to let in more air, to salt the bales to help draw out moisture, and try and stop it going mouldy.

I pulled a hundred bales out into the sun on Boxing Day, laying them on an angle so they faced the sun. I’d pulled them out of the stack, wherever I felt moisture or heat building up in the pile. A quick trip back to the house for lunch and by the time I got back it had rained. Enough to moisten the tops of each bale. It was still raining as Sadie and I hauled them back under cover, but the majority of the original stack was still packed too tightly for safety. Marcus, the hay cutter, came by to help, ordering the rained-on 100 back out of the shed, and helping restack the rest – keeping the heavy, more-likely-to-mould bales to one side, and concentrating on the dry bales. A few hours of shifting, of moving old pallets underneath to allow more airflow, and loosening the pile and I felt older than my 46 years.

It only takes a minute, however, out on the mighty Huon River in the kayak for the world to look much finer. As Sadie and I dip the paddle in the water, with the Hartz range in the background, the only sting left in the day is from salty water on all the fine cuts on my hands and legs.