The Duckman: If Ho Ho Ho Was Hay Hay Hay

If Ho Ho Ho Was Hay Hay Hay

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Jodi and I hope for a rich harvest of a particular type of Christmas present this year.

We should know a fortnight out from the day of Santa’s visit if our wishes come true and the ‘present’ is delivered.

Alan is a nearby dairy farmer who runs a few young cattle on part of our 16-hectare property. He pays us a modest monthly agistment fee, which we use to help subsidise our hefty grain bills.

Once a year, Alan rolls on to our place with his tractor, mower and baler and performs the farmer’s annual miracle of turning spring’s grass into winter’s hay. Depending on the weather, Alan and his son normally cut and bale the hay in the weeks leading up to Christmas. We split the loot 50-50.

Often Alan leaves some of his share of the hay at our place and I feed it out to his cattle. Jodi and I use our hay for bedding in the ducks sheds – our ducks are out in paddocks during the day but we herd them into sheds of an evening – and we mix it with bales of straw we buy.

All of our 600 ducks of various ages appreciate the hay as much as Alan’s cattle but instead of eating it they bed down in it. Not that they sleep much, they’re too busy pooping for that.

I know that using good hay to essentially collect duck poo will be considered by some of you as crazy as cheering for the Poms on Boxing Day at the G. But that’s just where the craziness starts. Jodi and I spend a good deal of our time mucking the fouled hay out of the sheds and putting fresh hay in. This year, since early autumn, we have been spreading the fouled hay in one of the smaller paddocks dedicated to grazing cattle.

Normally we’d load the stinking hay into the ute then spread it on the paddocks. But in the middle of a winter wet enough to consider adding a snorkel to our standard dress code of gumboots and jackets, my ancient, slowly rusting two-wheel drive ute was barely up to negotiating our steep gravel driveway, and proved impossible during July and August and into September. My old Massey Ferguson tractor wasn’t up for negotiating the bog either, so I used the wheelbarrow to help cart the hay into the paddocks and, after dumping it, spread it around with a pitchfork.

This is unquestionably a sign of lunacy. Still, the results are, to us at least, remarkable. The grass that has grown where we forked the hay and poop is, in many places, significantly longer than the grass beyond the range of the wheelbarrow (whose power was limited by a stomach wobbling with every footstep).

We’re hoping this fantastic gift of green translates into a bumper harvest, if not this year perhaps in years to come. The reward for our sweat and insanity might yet be that we can eliminate buying the straw. It will be one less bill we have to worry about paying.

Alan is a good fella. If he ever grows a beard it’ll be grey, the colour of his mane of hair. And if he’d just put on 40kg, cultivate a balloon of a stomach, and command a sleigh, not a tractor, he could be Santa (which ultimately means he doesn’t look like him at all).

Still, we’re hoping he’ll soon be working on another considerable present for Jodi and I around Christmas time.
Thank you to everyone who has provided us with emails of encouragement and kind words again this year. I hope Santa comes to all of you – whether he brings hay or not.