My Favorite Smell

The summer that I was five years old, my brothers went to sleep-away camp. My mother, worried that I would be lonely, got me a guinea pig. His name was Chester and he had belonged to a family who no longer wanted him. He was full-grown and a chestnut brown and I thought him the most beautiful animal in the world. I didn’t miss my brothers at all. A few weeks later, when told that my brothers would be coming home soon, I howled and cried, thinking that their return meant that I had to give Chester back. Given a choice between siblings and Chester, I much preferred the piggy. As it turned out, I got to have both.

Chester lived in a plastic baby bathtub in my room that was layered with newspaper and bedded with hay. Hay at the pet store was expensive so we went to a feed store. It was an old building next to a railroad track. I was allowed to go into the loft and fill a paper bag with loose hay and it didn’t cost a thing. I remember the slants of light on the wooden floor, the quiet, and the green of the bales, a color unique to hay. It was timothy, and I recall it’s ticklish feel. Mostly, though, I remember the smell. There is nothing like the smell of hay.  It speaks of meadows and grazing animals, and of animals closed up in fragrant barns in winter. Later in my life, I would know what it was like to throw bales into a moving wagon, and the itchiness of sweat mixed with hay dust after a long day of working on a farm. I’d know about waking at five am to feed a barn full of hungry horses, and of opening bale after bale and tossing flakes to the animals. But, even at the age of seven, before I’d experienced any of that, the hay spoke of it, and I knew.

I bought hay for the goats today.

I bought two bales. I could buy more and have it delivered, but it makes me happy to go to Erikson Grain. The guy who loaded my car asked, a bit incredulous, “in here?” I drive a BMW. “Yes,” I said. The BMW smells just right now.


  1. I also love the smell on hay. But the thing that does it for me is the tack room in the horse barn. Leather, sweat, horses and hay rolled into one. It also brings me back to my childhood when I was about 7. I went to horse camp and longed for my own horse. I dreamed I would spend unlimited hours at a farm with all the animals I loved so much. Good thing that some dreams come true!

    • Oh, I LOVE the smell of leather. I once worked for a British stable manager, and I sure did learn about cleaning tack. I’m rather obsessive about it :)

  2. I’m just beginning to create those memories now, in my 40s. I hope when I’m in my 80s they are just as sweet. :)

  3. I love the smell of my horses when I hug them and kiss their noses. But memories flood back for me when I go to the feed store because my dad owned a feed store in Iowa when we were growing up. I can almost close my eyes and feel I’m back there, and it makes me miss my dad.

    • Denise – I love my goats, but I sure miss horse smell! Nothing like it.
      Isn’t it something how smells can trigger memories. Not all of my barn memories are good, but the smell of hay always makes me smile. Mine weren’t wrapped up in family memories (no one cared about animals but me) so I can only imagine if hay reminds you of a loved person.

    • My parents owned a feed store in Louisiana when I was a baby/kid. The thought of it brings back memories of my dad too. About a year ago the people who own the place now called me and asked if I wanted some old signs that my dad used at the store. Two had the name of the place on it when my parents owned it. Of course I said yes. One I kept for myself and the other I gave to the local museum here. Have a great day everyone.

  4. This reminds me of the aroma of the big feed store where my family purchased not only cracked corn, mash and oyster shell bits for the chickens but where Mom took her excess of eggs to sell to the wholesaler, who in turn furnished eggs for the local grocery stores (I figured out then just how “aged” store bought eggs might be). But the best part of all was wandering up and down the aisles to find the perfect fabric pattern of the feed sacks, which would then be turned into frocks. I still have some treasured feed sack aprons that Mom made for me!

  5. OMG! I remember Erickson’s. It’s taken me the best part of an hour to remember but I did go there and it must have been for dog kibble. Some particular brand that was highly recommended by someone who raised dogs. A brand that wasn’t widely available. Old Mother Hubbard? I can’t say that I have any olfactory memories of the place but I haven’t set foot there or anywhere similar in many years. But yes, smells are a powerful trigger for memory. My main memory of the place is sliding down the driveway and then trying to get back out with six inches of snow on the ground and more coming down!!

  6. I always laugh when people make a comment about the smell of a horse or chickens. To me, it smells like nature and has a relaxing way about it. Cleaning my chicken coops and shoveling horse manure are not chores to me. Think of is one of the the very few things you do that you can stand back and look at it and say “WOW! That looks so much better!” The house gets just dirty the minute you are done, but the chickens really seem to like it when you put out those nice clean shavings! Thanks for the memory, Terry!

    • Can’t help but take a moment to agree whole heartedly with your post Donna!! :)

  7. I love our local co-op! Nothing is more fun then going and getting my chicken feed there and them knowing my name. My favorite memories of our farm as a kid were being in the barn when calving was going on and being amazed that those things came out walking! (a little exaggerated:) and then a few hours later trying to get close enough to tag them. I learned really young that just because I was small didn’t mean that momma cow was going to let me any closer!!!

  8. Love that smell as well and look forward to the trip tot he feed store just to take a deep breath.
    I too baled and tossed hay at those moments I knew I was and needed to go to college so I didn’t have to do that for a living. THAT’S HARD BACK BREAKING WORK

    • It’s really hard work! And, somehow, always on the hottest days of the year. And everyone has to pitch in. I remember when we finally got the snobby riding instructor to help – rain was coming and it was essential. We all knew what he was in for when he appeared in shorts! Those bales scratched.

  9. From what I’ve read in the past, the olfactory sense is the sense most directly linked with memory recall, it is immediate. I too love the smell of horses, some people find this strange. It’s nice to be able to share with others that understand the experience. Takes me back to my 20’s when I took riding lessons and new the sweetest mare that ever was. How I wish I could nuzzle her back and enjoy her scent once more.