One of my favourite passages from The Bible - particularly in the Authorised Version - is the piece which begins, "To everything there is a season." It is as true today as it was when it was first written. And I think these things are more apparent when one lives in the country. I know birth and death happen everywhere but many of the things listed are countryside things. And, of course, in the days when it was written much of life was lived in the countryside.
In farming the circle is continuous - a season for the cattle going out, a season for them coming in, a season for sowing the corn, a season for harvesting - and so it goes on, coming round from year to year.
At present it is the season for cutting the grass, and in these 'modern' days that means making it into silage. The days when all the grass cut was made into hay are long gone. I do remember as a child travelling from the hay field back to the farm riding on top of a cart load of hay pulled by a horse. The hay was made into a haystack, thatched to keep out the worst of the weather, and then left for that all important Winter food. Now, thank goodness, things are not left to chance in quite the same way. I know haytime was a picturesque time of year, but it was always a worrying time for the farmer.
When I read articles in newspapers it does seem as though a lot of people muddle up 'hay' and 'silage'. I am speaking now of here in the North of England. What goes on in the South of the country, where the weather is often more settled and warmer, I don't know. But here in the Yorkshire Dales nobody makes hay until well into July.
If you happen to be lucky enough to own protected wild flower meadows then you are not allowed to cut until towards the end of July in any case - to give the flowers time to flower and then seed for next year.
However, there are two kinds of silage and I think that is where folk get muddled up. In the first kind, forage silage, the grass is cut, left to wilt and then gathered up by those giant 'hoover' things and blown out into wagons. It is then carried to the farmyard and tipped on to a silage clamp. When it is full the top is sheeted down and often weighted with old tyres - and then left to 'fester'.
When Winter comes and the cattle come in the clamp is opened up and the 'cured' grass is then used for feed. Some farmers allow feeding at clamp, which means that the cattle inside can help themselves whenever they like. Others (more usual) mix it with other things and feed it into the troughs.
The second kind of silage is the one which people seem to muddle up with hay. The grass is cut and left to dry in the fields. Once or twice and farmer will go round and shake it up to disperse it and allow the sun (hopefully) to get among the grass. When it is deemed dry enough then it will be baled (usually large round bales these days) and wrapped in plastic (either black or pale green) and led back to the farm to be stacked and used in Winter. This sort of silage is more dependent upon the weather than the forage stuff as the period during which it lies in the field is longer.
But anyone up here at this time of year who sees grass lying in the field and assumes it is hay is wrong. When it comes to haytiming, then we really need good hot sun to dry it off and leave it crisp. That's the best kind of hay; that's the kind that smells of Summer even in the middle of Winter. That's the kind I love best of all - and I am sure you do too.
Life on the farm can be frustrating if the weather is not settled enough to make either hay or silage. But anyone who saw the marvellous film of Kate Humble in the the mountains of Afghanistan last night on BBC2 and saw the hard life lived by the shepherds and their families (life expectancy 35, many children dying in infancy, no access to medicine of any kind, diet mainly of water, milk products from their sheep, flat bread which they baked on a fire of yak dung, and maybe sheep once a month, when they threw every little bit into a great pot of boiling water and ate it with their fingers) must surely be thankful that by comparison the farmer's worries here in the Yorkshire Dales are nothing at all.