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Making Hay

(c) Copyright Chuck Bealke, 1996

Once upon a time I spent much of my summers making hay. Some was loose hay put up with pitchfork and teams, but most was put up as 60 to 80 pound wire- or twine-tied bales. It was honest work. Along with the the physical stuff came mowing, raking and baling with tractors, but the more memorable jobs were whole body exercises. First there was picking bales up off the ground, dragging them across the field a short way, and lifting them up onto a wagon or truck bed. If you were working up on the wagon or truck you would stack bales there as others drug them over and lifted them up to you. When all the wagons and trucks available were loaded, they were taken to barns to unload. There we lifted the bales through doors or put them on hay elevators for higher hand stacking. We stacked as high as possible to fill all available barn space from the floor to the roof. Everyone was always in a hurry, as the bales had to be stored indoors to protect them from rain, and folks did not want to work half the night to finish when they had to rise early the next day or do other farm chores before bedtime. Lack of ventilation was a problem, especially when the barn was almost filled and doors were almost blocked. Along with the heat there were frequent irritants like wasps building nests on the same rafters you wanted to pile hay against, and trying to wipe dirty sweat out of your eyes before the next bale was thrust at you to stack. Breezes through barn doors and short breaks to drink cold water or lemonade between wagon loads were highly prized. And I never had a problem sleeping nights after haying.

We often baled wheat straw as well as hay. When yuppie houses sprouted up like weeds in our county, straw for lawns became a money crop. Handling straw bales was easier, as straw bales were lighter than hay bales. Hay or straw, the air in the barn was filled with dust. One year a distant neighbor loading a big barn with straw lost both when the hay elevator engine backfired, and a fire flashed through the dusty atmosphere in the place. Luckily everyone in the barn got out (just), but about 4,000 bales went up with with the barn. My recollection is that the blaze was caused by operating the well used elevator with a bad or missing muffler - as had been done for some time. Another farmer and I saw the smoke about 6 miles off while working in the fields and raced to check it out because it came from the same direction where our barn sat full of hay. Whew!

While stacking hay on various farms, I found that some folks stacked bales on edge as they believed it cured (dried out) better that way. It took a little more trouble and time to do it that or some other special way. Most would stack bales whatever way they figured was fastest and packed the most hay in the space available. Occasionally, when a bale was turned over or picked up, you would be startled to see a snake had been baled into it. Such a reptile was invariably dead - and just as invariably eyed to make sure. Some were never seen but were smelled a while later. Then there was the fine art of handing up a bale so that the baled-up snake would suddenly appear just where the next guy was going to sink his hand held hay hook. One such prank was repaid with a folded blank piece of note paper with a live wasp in it presented during the next truck ride back to get more hay - "Here, there was a phone message for you."

Results of good hay work were easy to see. A well mown hay field with the crop taken off would look clean and trim, and a barn packed tight with good hay was a comfort going into a winter with stock. There was no trouble telling which hay cattle liked best, as we often fed it in open pasture and they would run to get hay they liked and lick the ground for the last leaves. Alfalfa was my favorite hay crop. It was a prolific grower, cured to a nice green color, and was full of protein. Like cows, horses loved it. The fancy horse set in our area always said that Timothy hay was far better horse hay, but they never convinced one horse of that. Working in Red Clover hay was dirty work because the seed heads turned to a blackish powder. Clover hay hands often looked like coal miners. Lespedeza was nice hay, but was all small leaves. If it had to be re-raked due to a shower, most of the leaves fell out on the ground and with them the value of the hay. I never was fond of baling Fescue, Bermuda or other grasses, as its feed value and appeal to cows seemed pretty poor compared to the good stuff. To me, it's just not satisfying to fill a barn with grass bales. But the smell of second or third cutting alfalfa bales a few days in the loft is mighty fine.

 

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