Friday, June 25, 2010

Make hay while the sun shines...

I took a bike ride out to the hay fields this afternoon.  We have only just begun to make hay here on the ranch, mainly because nearly every night for a week, it has rained.  Now, I'm not complaining, mind you.  We had seven years of drought in a row and I don't wish for those days ever again, but in order to make hay, you need some sunshine, some heat, some drying conditions.  That's where the old saying, "Make hay while the sun shines," comes from. 

I rode past this old stack cage on the way to the hay field.  It is what it says.  In the old days someone would buck hay into it .  That's a process where a tractor with forked tines on the front of it would scoop up the mowed hay and shake it into this cage.  Someone would tromp the hay as it came in and after enough bucking and tromping, you'd have a haystack.  The cage would be opened and moved to another spot and another haystack would be made.  I saw the process once in my life when I was a girl visiting my friend's farm.  Her dad bucked the hay and we played in the stack cage, tromping the hay down.  I don't remember if we tromped a whole haystack down though.  I rather doubt it.

About 20 years ago we used to make haystacks that looked like loaves of bread.  There was a stack box that the tractor pulled along over the windrows and suck up the hay.  Every so often the top of the box would press down the hay inside.  Like tromping, only easier.  After a number of rounds in the hay field and enough compressions, the stack was complete, but the hard work in making haystacks was tying them down so the winds didn't blow the tops off.  

Have you ever heard of a "needle in a haystack?"  As a young bride, I learned all about that needle while working in the hay field.  Hubs taught me well how to tie down the tops of haystacks with a needle that was about about 12 feet long and made of steel rod.  It had a hole in one end to accommodate sisal twine and was tapered to a dull point on the other.  Hubs and I tied pairs of stacks at a time.  One person would "thread the needle" with the twine and push it through the top third of the haystack, going straight through.  The other person, in between the two stacks, would pull the needle through and keep it moving through the other stack next to it.  Then the one who began to push the needle through would run around to the other side and finish pulling the needle and twine through the second stack.  The tricky part was throwing the needle over the top of the two haystacks.  The person in the middle must come out and wait to see that the thrower got it over.  If so, the thrower went around and pulled plenty of twine so the stacks could be tied down.  The person in the middle of the stacks would take a garden hoe, pull the twine down, tie a square knot on the right stack so the outside person could tie his stack down, and then tied the left-side haystack down.  The process continued three more times through the same pair so that there would be four ties on each haystack.  All the while we swatted deer flies and mosquitoes and gnats and had to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes that liked to nap in the shade of haystacks.  There was many an evening as we tied, that a nasty thunderstorm would be brewing up and we'd get done with our tying just in the nick of time.  You sure didn't want to be standing out on the prairie with a steel rod in your hand during a lightning storm!

Nowadays our work is done mostly by machine.  We use a swather to mow the hay into nice, long windrows.
After the mowing, we rake the hay.  Not by hand like raking the yard, but with another implement.  

This small tractor pulls the rake and the wheeled tines turn two rows of hay into one big windrow.  Raking hay helps it to dry faster and makes less traveling for the baler.  Now the baler will drive over the raked hay and make it into  big, round bales of hay.

Here is the baler going over the raked hay and sweeping it up.  The hay swirls round and round inside the baler until it's just the right size and then.....

 ...the end gate is opened and the bale rolls out the back.  When the hay is all made (and there is a lot of it this year) we will go pick up every bale and haul it in to the hay corrals for the winter's livestock feed.  Making hay is a whole lot easier now than it was even a few years ago.

 Did you notice how green and lush the grass is while standing there in the field and how stubbly and brown it is once it is cut and taken off?  If we continue getting these rains, the fields will green up again and will be good grazing  for the sheep and cows. 

"There is no reason to fear the wind if your stack of hay is well tied." 
~Old Irish saying


  1. Wow! No wonder you are so good with needle and thread, Jody. You guys are so smart. All the equipment, the timing, the study. I'm amazed.
    So, your bike is fixed?

  2. I loved this informative post..I always wondered what held those hay stack loaves of bread together! I was raised on a farm..I love the smell of freshly cut hat! :D

  3. Wow, Jody. Great post! And thank the good Lord for modern equipment. That sounds like hard work. I am thankful for all the rain you have had, too. What a blessing.

  4. Our farmers are doing their hay now too. Mostly round bales but every now and then you'll see the smaller square bales. I think they sell them to horse owners. I didn't grow up on a farm but had lots of friends who did. I can remember helping out with hay. It seemd like fun to me but my dh who HAD to do it, remembers it as very hard and hot work! I never knew the story behind a needle in a haystack - thanks for telling it!

    Love the pic of your shadow on the bike. I need to get me a bike :)

    Happy weekend Jody!

  5. I remember reading how Laura in the Little House books helped her Pa with the haying and her job was tromping it - must have been hard for those little legs! I didn't know abouth the needle in the haystack - thanks!


  6. Wow, I thought baling was something only done in the fall! I always see round bales in the fields now -- does anyone do the square ones anymore?

  7. Pom Pom,

    We aren't so "smart" but rather, experienced! My bike is not fixed yet so I'm riding Hubby's. Maybe tomorrow the tire will be fixed.

    The smell of cut hay is good. Just last night as S. and I were turning in to bed, we both commented about the smell in the air -- clover.

    We do feel blessed when we can have a hay crop like this.

    Island Sparrow,

    Haying can be hot, hard work, especially if you must ride out in the heat all day. Our rake is connected to an open air tractor (no cab) so it can be hot work. I like it tho. Right now everyone's excited about haying, but after a few weeks, the new wears off.

    Thanks for stopping by. I can't imagine little girls legs tromping hay, but it had to be done and as I recall, Laura was glad to help Pa.

    Summer is the time to bale, but in places where farmers/ranchers get a second or third cutting, they can be making hay right into the fall too.

    Yes, people still make small square bales. We do too, but not many. Just enough for feeding in the barn during lambing. They are labor intense because you must pick them up by hand and stack them by hand. Some people around here make square bales for horse hay and get a good price for it because it's hard to find.

    Thanks for your comments everyone. Happy Summer!


  8. About how many square bales are in a round bale?


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