We learn our lessons more by chance than by deliberation. Or maybe it is more to the point to say that we learn by living. For sure, what we learn from experience sticks with us longer than what we think we learn in classrooms. I can’t remember how to do algebra problems involving two unknowns but I will never forget what happened when I was dumb enough to touch a frosty piece of iron with my tongue.
I learned by chance that a good way to start tree seedlings is not to clean out the roof gutters. Another accidental discovery: you can make a deer proof fence by planting a row of red cedar trees about ten feet apart and after they get 15 feet tall or so, tie a wire panel fence to the trunks. The trees will continue to grow, closing the space between them with dense branches that extend above the fence high enough to stop the deer from jumping over. The only problem is that you have to accidentally learn this lesson many years before it takes effect.
Here’s another one. Last summer, making hay with rain threatening (rain is always threatening when you are making hay), I decided to dump a couple of pickup truck loads of loose hay in the machine shed instead of forking the hay into the barn loft, to save time. The little stack would still be handy enough to the barn to carry forkfuls over to the hay ricks for winter feeding.
So now it is winter and the sheep are still out eating on the haystack in the field. The stack in the shed keeps settling down and spreading out more than it should be doing naturally. What gives?
First I blamed it on the cats romping over the top of the stack. Then it became apparent that the chickens loved to scratch merrily away in the hay, eating green bits of clover leaves and grass seeds out of it. With the ground frozen and covered with snow, they can’t forage in the woods, so they are supplementing the whole wheat and corn I feed them by eating the haystack.
Not in all the annals of agriculture can I find any treatise on feeding haystacks to chickens. A fellow in England got into the books a few years ago by making silage out of grass clippings which he fed to chickens. That’s as close as I can come to finding a self-feeding haystack for hens in the literature. I had to learn it by accident. That little stack is suddenly worth some real money because now I don’t have to worry about buying the hens expensive feed supplement over winter in this crazy year of corn at six dollars a bushel. The egg yolks stay marvelously bright yellow-orange from that high quality hay and taste just as wonderful as they do in summer. Rest assured that from now on, there will be a little haystack in that shed every winter.
The beauty of it is that the hens eat only a fraction of the hay pile while pecking away at it. They don’t seem to deposit manure on the stack either, although they have made a couple of nests for egg laying. Most of the hay I can still fork over into the hay ricks for the sheep as the hens scratch it off the top of the stack.
If only I could live another century, I’d be a genius.