With several days of fine, dry weather promised the grass gets mown to make hay. Once cut, it gets turned regularly by what the French call a 'pirouette' and the English a tedder. This spreads the grass out, brings what was underneath to the top, so that it can all dry thoroughly in the sun and the wind. In a good hot year this might take just 2 days - normally 3. All the while you are hoping the weather forecast was right and that no rain falls.
As it dries it gives off the most amazing smell. As all the neighbours tend to cut at the same time, the smell when you go out with the dogs last thing at night is wonderful. When you break open a bale of that hay in mid winter, with temperatures below freezing, hands clumsy with the cold, that smell takes you straight back to summer.
Once dry the spread out hay gets put up into rows with and 'endaineur'. The baler can then pick it up, compress it, shape it into a rectangular box shape and tie it up with the farmer's friend - baler twine! Better than gaffer tape (well - it's been around longer!) it's used all over for place for a multitude of reasons. The bales we made weighed around around 10-12 kilos. The best yield we had from the field in the pictures was just over 800 bales - over 8 tonnes. Not bad from an unfertilised field just over 1.5 hectares. That all gets put up on the cart, hauled back to the hayloft and tucked safely away for winter feeding.
Keeping a medium density baler working in the field is something of a black art. They all seem to have their different foibles, some prefer sisal twine to plastic, but you can guarantee to see the operator stretched underneath fixing something or other at least once (if they are lucky).
The whole exercise is a race against the weather. Four or five days without rain is rare and it can all get a bit stressful. We got caught one year - stopped for lunch (a French lunch at that) with about 100 bales left in the field. Just as the cheese had been finished and the dessert was due, in rolled a thunderstorm! Off we all roared to get that last 100 under cover. Put wet hay in a barn and you are asking for trouble. At best, it will rot. At worst, it will get so hot it will spontaneously ignite and the lot will go up in flames.
Doing it the old fashioned way, with small machinery and a lot of hard manual labour, with the ever present worry about the weather, it can be a trial. It is always hot in a hay field. It doesn't half feel good when it's all safely stacked in the barn!
Full marks to the observant among you who spotted the streamlined racing position of the tractot exhaust - a penalty of arguing with a low branch whilst looking backwards.