Country Living Series

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hay day

Every year we're given permission by the absentee landowner to hay the 25-acre field kitty-corner across from our property. We contracted with a local farmer to mow, swath, bale, and deliver the grass hay.

On August 2, Alan (the farmer) began mowing.

Around and around he went, cutting the grass into neat trails behind him.

Then the hay has to lie on the ground for a few days to cure and dry. You can't bale wet (green) hay or it will rot... or worse, spontaneously combust months later. Sometimes the curing process can be nail-biting, especially if rain is predicted. Fortunately we had a dry stretch, so the grass cured just fine.

On Wednesday Alan came back and swathed the hay into high windrows. A windrow is simply several lines of hay combined together into a bigger pile. This process serves two purposes: it fluffs the hay and allows it to dry some more; and it brings all the hay into one larger line, which is easier for the baler to do its job.

I think windrows are beautiful, the epitome of a farming summer and the promise of winter feed for our livestock.

Gathering up swathes into windrows requires a fairly complicated rake system.

Yesterday Alan and his father came and baled the hay. This required two men because it was two separate jobs: baling, and loading.

Here's the baler (from a distance).

While his dad baled, Alan loaded.

Meanwhile we had an all-hands-on-deck work party to clean out the barn in anticipation of the first delivery of bales.

Last year we baled the hay on exactly the same date, but then we had to let it sit in the field (praying for no rain) for several weeks until our barn was built.

But this year we're having the hay delivered, whoo-hoo! No eleven-hour days hauling hundreds of hay bales! (See that, cow? This hay's for you.)

The hay hauler has a hydraulic lift that tips the bales over. It holds 42 bales at a time.

Now it was time to haul. We hired two neighbor boys to help. At first we just lifted the bales by the twine to stack it, but quickly realized (a) we would wear ourselves out long before we could stack 600 bales; and (b) the younger kids had a hard time lifting 55-60 lbs over and over and over.

So we resorted to sleds, wheelbarrows, hand trucks, and anything else we had on hand. Lots of muscle, too.

Everyone had a chance to rest between deliveries.

Tools of the trade: gloves, hats, lots of lemonade...

...and sweatbands.

Gradually the stack grew, 42 bales at a time.

Finally the stack got so tall we could no longer chain-gang bales up to the top. So Don used a friend's tractor to lift three bales at a time to the top of the stacks.

We developed a nice rhythm. I loaded three bales into the bucket, Don lifted the bales to the top, and the kids swarmed like monkeys to unload and pack the bales tightly while I loaded another three bales into the bucket.  Repeat.  Repeat.

By the time the farmer called it quits for the night, we'd stacked ten loads or 420 bales. We were uniformly filthy, sweaty, and full of hay prickles.

This morning we only had three loads left, and everyone was fresher.

Over the noise of the tractor I heard the kids all singing something, and when I asked what they were singing, they told me "all the nerdy songs" they could remember. Hey, whatever it takes to get the job done.

Older Daughter gives Don the thumbs up that it's safe to pull away from the stack.

At one point I lifted a bale and it literally exploded in my hands (broken twine), sending hay cascading all over. Such is life.

Here a snake got caught in the baler and cut in half. Ouch.

That was a strange sight, but not nearly as strange as the live snake we found, perfectly fine except for the tip of its tale which was caught under the tight twine. We carefully cut the twine and Older Daughter released the snake into the garden (didn't get pix, which I regret).

Here's the crew, hot and grungy and sweaty, but satisfied from a job well done. We have fifteen tons of hay in the barn... not enough to feed the livestock over the winter, but a start.

Last April, the Labor Department tried to ban kids from working on family farms. Only a federal bureaucrat could come up with legislation that stupid. Farm labor trains kids toward a respect for the land, an understanding of the cycle of harvest, a strong work ethic, and keeps them fit in mind and body.

Fortunately the legislation was scrapped under pressure, though it did cause Younger Daughter to quip, "Are you sure what we're doing is legal?"

The kids were all pleased to earn some money. And believe me, they worked for every dime of it... just as everyone should.

Beautiful hay!


  1. You know what touched me the most about this entry? - the compassion shown toward the snake, even if it meant having to undo that carefully baled hay to save it. The little things count - they all add up to make us who we are... and so our characters are moulded. God bless.

  2. From the pictures it looks like your barn is tall enough for the haywagon to back into the barn after the load it is hauling has been tilted almost upright. When we had horses that was how our hay was delivered. The first stack needed to have long poles braced up against it so it would not fall over, after that the stacks would lean against each other. It takes someone running the haywagon who knows how to carefully run the equipment, but it sure saves a lot of work.

  3. With the drought conditions you must feel enormous relief & satisfaction knowing the barn is nearly full.
    I remember hearing the proposal to ban the kids working in family businesses and at the time actually spat my coffee. Some idiot who has no clue how life... outside the city is lived. Taught by example, hands on and sweat-equity is what passes that knowledge on. Not everything can be learned from a book.

  4. good for youse..I have bucked many a bale in my day. to a sled, on a wagon, conveyor to a semi trailer, and to the stack. 50# light dry bales to 150# green bales (mostly alfalfa). My Mother used to sew large denim material patches on our blue jeans from the knees to the crotch area. Kept our bucking jeans from wearing out so fast. In Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado the "buzz tails" (rattlers) were our main concern. Nothing quite like slinging bales on a hot day. I enjoy your blog. Shadowfaxhound

  5. Your posts are always so positive! Thanks for sharing. I grew up on a farm/ranch and contacted everybody I could think of w/r to the farm child labor laws. So glad that stupidity got squashed. So many values learned by growing up learning to be useful and needed.

    Keep up the good posts from the beautiful land of people who know and enjoy WORK and accomplishment! We all need the encouragement they bring.

  6. Nice to see something growing somewhere. Here in Kansas, practically everything is dead or dying. Even the trees are starting to die. Never seen it so dry. They are baling corn and soybeans-- I've never seen that before, either. Pray for rain. Thanks for your blog, Patrice.

  7. I spent my teen summers hauling hay (we had a dairy farm) and can testify to how hard it is. Have you thought of putting down boards from the outside stack to the inside? That way we dragged the bales (using a hay hook--I still have one!!)to near the new stack. Then a temporary ramp to get them to the top of the stack. Sometimes we had a whole system of ramps to get it all to the top of the main stack. We didn't have the advantage of a loader but still got it done without quite as much exertion.

  8. I'm not a bit surprised about the attempt by some idiot bureaucrat to prevent kids from working on farms. I'm sure that isn't the first time our liberal-progressive "friends" have done that. They'll no doubt claim that they're "only thinking of the kids' welfare," but we all know that's a lie. They want to brainwash and control everyone, and that means starting on them as young as possible! --Fred in AZ

  9. i love to watch the cutting and baling of hay..i like the smell! as a kid we used to get hired to load hay onto the trailers/trucks and stack it in the haylofts. dont see kids doing much of that anymore, especially for a nickel a bale. sadder still is to see abandoned farms and fallow fields- it is so refreshing to see an active and working farm these days.

  10. Anon at 426 addressed one thought I had.

    Supposedly the regulations would exempt family farms. I have not read the regulations, so I don't know. But that is what they were saying. But once the regulations are in place, it is much easier to slowly tighten them, and it is clear that the people who wanted the law had no problems going after the family farms.

  11. When I saw the windrow picture, the first thing I thought was, "How in the WORLD did they get those rows so FAR apart from each other?"

    When I saw the fancy raking contraption, it was all clear.

    I once told my hubby there should be a cologne that smells like fresh hay.

    (We call them "hay bites.")

    That's one fine barn full of winter critter feed.

    Just Me

  12. I earned good money bucking bales as a teenager. It was hot, sweaty, miserable work, but I got paid enough to supply my hobbies. And it gave me a deep appreciating for what people have to do in order for everyone else to live their comfortable lives.

  13. Why not use round bales? Much easier and faster.

    1. First of all, there wasn't a farmer available who had a round baler (they were all busy elsewhere -- they're in high demand this time of year). Second, we like being able to move and stack the bales ourselves -- round bales are far too heavy. Third, we use feeder boxes rather than allowing the cattle to free-feed (less waste), so round bales wouldn't help in that regards and it's a pain in the patookus to peel hay off a round bale.

      - Patrice

  14. Awesome article, I really enjoy your site. I heard about the kid/farm legislation while I was working in DC and it really was the last straw for me, I quit my job and came back to Pennsylvania and am now transitioning into homesteading. What a slow arduous process. Thank you for sharing your life with us.