Video: Making hay while the sun shines

THOROUGHBRED horses are known for being a bit spooky, even when just doing trackwork.

Click play to watch the video (iPhone app users can tap the 'Videos' tab).

So it is probably fortunate most of the hayburners were back in their stables before Harry Chisholm and his team hit the track on Tuesday.

Well, the middle of the track really.

Mr Chisholm leases the 25ha centre area of the Albury racecourse, cropping it and then cutting it for hay, something he has been doing for four years.

“The club initially asked me if I would be interested in cutting the centre of the course and I said yes — provided I could crop it,” he said.

“I can’t make all the hay I need — I buy and sell hay as well as processing it — so the racecourse is just another part of my business.”

And it’s an expensive one to be in as well.

“It’s a large investment,” Mr Chisholm said.

“You’re looking at $150,000 for a baler, $130,000 for a tractor, $100,000 for another tractor, $35,000 for a rake and $40,000 for a mower-conditioner.

“So it is not necessarily a viable investment for a farmer who is only going to use the equipment for a couple of weeks a year and only has a small acreage.

“And if you’re a trader, like I am, you can add on $250,000 for a prime mover and $100,000 for a trailer.”

But hay-making and trading is big business, Mr Chisholm said.

“I’ve been in the game for 20 years and taken hay over to the NSW coast, Gippsland and other places; and I sent 30 to 40 semi loads down to Shepparton a couple of months after the floods,” he said.

“I mostly cut hay in about a 100km circle around Albury and make 12,000 to 15,000 bales a year, which I store at different locations such as Corowa, Holbrook and Jindera.”

The machinery has got to keep up as the industry has grown.

“We’ve got bigger and better and faster gear than what we once had,” Mr Chisholm said.

“For example, we now have mower-conditioners, which means you can make the hay three to four days earlier, make better quality hay and it dries out quicker.”

The big square balers were a revolution, according to Mr Chisholm.

“I think I was one of the first people in the country to have one,” he said.

“Little square balers have been around since Adam wore shorts and then we had the round balers.

“About 16 to 18 years ago the big square balers came into existence.

“You pick up one bale and it is (the same as) about 16 to 20 little squares.

“So one man can cart the equivalent of 3000 little bales on his own, basically, in a day.”

So the romantic images of an English farmer happily whistling away as he cuts his paddocks by hand just don’t ring true any more.

And it can be a tough game.

“Lucerne hay and clover hay have to be baled at night because you need dew on it or all the leaves fall off,” Mr Chisholm said.

“Bale it up with a bit of dew on it and you end up with some bloody good hay.

“But sometimes you can get too much dew and then sometimes no dew at all and when there is a big drought there might be no hay cut at all.

“In fact, there are less contractors around than there used to be simply because some went out of business during the drought.”

And, like most farming enterprises, hay makers are certainly at the mercy of the weather.

“This year’s season is very late, because the weather had not warmed up until recently,” Mr Chisholm said.

“You need the temperature to be in the high 20 degrees to low 30 degrees to make hay and if we get that the hay is probably only down for three to four days, maybe five.

“But when it’s only 18 to 20 degrees it might be down for two weeks.

“People were a bit nervous about cutting because it was going to be down for two weeks and the longer you have it on the ground the bigger the risk is of it getting wet.

“So we basically only had about a two-week window before the four inches of rain the bureau told us was coming — which it did for a change.

“We pulled up stumps for a while but are now going again.”

In some ways, maybe Mr Chisholm and his team should process hay during the middle of a race meeting.

It would probably be a nice distraction watching them mow a hectare or two while waiting for the horse you tipped to finish the race.

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