Baxter Black: The high price of hay |

Baxter Black: The high price of hay

Baxter Black

In the Southwest, the price of hay can be daunting to horse owners. I keep our ranch horses up in the corral. When hay gets above $10 a bale, I actually weigh each feeding.

Clyde has a little band of broodmares on his southern California operation. His place is sandwiched by irrigated alfalfa fields to the west and 5,000 acres of desert to the east.

To save money on his feed bill, the neighboring farmer lets him pick up "tags" after the field is cut. Tags are what's left after the baling is complete.

One hot night, he and his faithful wife and horse lover took their old 1985 Isuzu 4×4 diesel pickup into the neighbor's field to pick up tags.

She drove slowly down the rows followed by Clyde who was pitchforking hay into the bed. She had to put the truck in first and low to keep it slow enough for him to keep up. It crawled along.

The ends of the rows where the baler turns garners the most hay.

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As the pickup turned sideways to Clyde, he tossed in a forkful.

"It felt heavy," he thought. He glanced up and watched the hay float into the bed and a three-and-a-half foot snake, carried by its own momentum, shoot out of the cloud of stems and leaves, arc through the open window and slap onto the dashboard.

He shouted a warning to his wife, which was not necessary because she was already halfway to the house.

The truck puttered along in first and low. Clyde raced to catch up. Running alongside the open driver's door, he reached in for the ignition. The snake was now in the seat and struck out at Clyde. Clyde fell back, snagging the toe of his right boot on the heel of his left, and cart-wheeled to the ground.

As he watched from the gopher's eye-view, the little pickup banged over a border ditch, punched through the two-strand hot-wire fence and shoved its way into the mare pasture. Upon seeing the clunking vehicle coming their way dragging 300 feet of hot-wire, the 10 mares and one cocky stallion stampeded across the pasture and crashed through the hot wire on the other side. They escaped into the desert.

Finally, the little truck stalled.

Clyde's wife came to get him in the other pickup. It took them two hours to find and gather the mares, in the dark, and they went to bed exhausted.

The next day, they went out to fix the fence.

The Isuzu squatted calmly in the morning sun, both doors shut. Armed with a hoe, Clyde opened the door as his wife stood by with a cell phone, sure that she would have to call 911 and report a snake bite victim.

Clyde poked and prodded around in the cab, then carefully tilted the front seat forward.

He screamed.

His wife screamed.

Then he fell back laughing, hysterical in relief.

She peeked inside. A grumpy gopher snake looked up at her as if to say, "Why can't we all just get along?"

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