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Making hay when June feels like August

Posted 6/10/2011 7:27am by Leslie Cooperband or Wes Jarrell.
The old adage "make hay when the sun shines" is difficult to realize in the now humid tropics of central Illinois.  In an ideal situation, you cut hay when the weather forecasts at least three to four days of sunny dry weather.  For the uninitiated, there are several critical steps to making hay that goats will eat: first you cut it--this involves a special piece of equipment that essentially mowes down the stand of alfalfa (in our case, it's a mixture of mostly alfalfa and some grass). Then you rake it into windrows--this step usually occurs on day two.  Sometimes you rake it twice to fluff up the cut alfalfa to speed up the drying.  If the drying is sufficient, you can bale it on day three. This involves another special piece of equipment called a baler. Ours is very old and idiosyncratic and subject to frequent break-downs. When baling, it is critical to not crimp down on the hay too much; otherwise the hay becomes brittle and the leaves separate from the stems.  Goats love leaves; they don't like stems. If your leaves fall off, you'll be left with stemmy hay to which they turn up their noses. The other old adage that goats will eat anything is false!
This past week's exceedingly hot and steamy weather made making hay a challenge, especially with the first cutting of alfalfa. It takes longer to dry, leaving it vulnerable to sitting in the field when those intense rain storms come along. We were able to get some of it out of the field, but in the end, the baler broke down one too many times and the rains came at inappropriate times. We had to mulch a good part of the hay right in the field where it lay.  It is not a total loss as the nutrients from the cut hay will replenish the soil and help grow the alfalfa for the second cutting. The second cutting has more leaves than stem anyway, making it more attractive to goats. 

Our on-farm sales on Tuesday afternoon were a huge success--ok I eggagerate a bit. For those who ventured out, they had a full selection of cheeses, gelato and our very own eggs to buy.  They also spent quality time with the baby (well, they are entering into pre-teen age) goats.  This coming Tuesday's farm sale should be even better.  Of course we'll be offering tastings of gelato and cheese, single-servings of gelato and more of our farm-fresh eggs. We're working on a surprise gelato confection to unveil on Tuesday as well, so if you like surprise sweets, you'll have to come out. We may also have Pekara Bakery here selling their wonderful breads and pastries.  I'll send an update on Monday to let folks know what we will have--remember it's 3-7PM on Tuesdays.
We're attending three markets this Saturday: Bloomington, Urbana and Oak Park.  Expect the following cheeses for sale:
  • Fresh chevre
  • Sheep Milk Feta
  • Angel Food
  • Smokin' Angel Food (apple-wood smoked by the kind folks at Black Dog Smoke and Ale House in Urbana)
  • Little Bloom on the Prairie
  • Ewe Bloom
  • Smokin' Ewe Bloom (we had to try it, right??)
  • Krotovina
  • Red Dawn
  • Maybe: Huckleberry Blue--our raw milk goat's milk blue made with spring milk. It's a bit more piquant than our end of the season version, but still a wonderful nutty blue.
Wes' gelato flavors at the Urbana Farmers' Market are:
  • Simply Vanilla
  • Luscious Chocolate
  • Hazelnut (Nocciola)
  • Sicilian Pistacchio
  • Local Strawberry (made with some of our very own organic strawberries)
We'll have single servings as well as pints for sale. 

We have another farm dinner this Saturday--"The Pampas Meets the Prairie" It's an Argentine carnivore's delight. The menu will be posted on our website later today. For our grill's sake, pray for NO RAIN on Saturday.