It is the season to make hay. I cannot help but notice how much the haying process has changed through the years.
When my husband was farming he mowed his own hay. Since the farm was close to a valley the hay was not dry enough to cut until late morning. First, he’d milk the cows, come in for a morning snack, then head to the hay field.
It was many trips around the field to get all of the hay on the ground. Then, depending on the weather, it took a full day to dry before he could bale it.
The next morning if it was a dry spell he’d repeat the process. At the same time his dad would be out in the hay field raking it into windrows. Once again, the hay needed to dry before it could be baled.
Baling usually began about 4 p.m. Depending how many loads there were it would be mowed away between 7-8 p.m. At that time, we were making small bales that had to be stacked in the barn.
The person loading the wagon stacked the hay to make a secure load alternating the bales so they would hold together. That was an art in itself. I remember riding around the field on top of the load when my husband and I were dating.
For a few years we used a baler that loaded the wagon on its own. That meant they had to build a frame on the wagon to catch the bales. If a bale happened to shoot out as they were rounding a corner it landed in the field and had to be picked up manually.
Once the wagon made it to the barn it had to be unloaded and mowed away. It was put on the elevator where it rode up to the hay mow. Someone was on top to mow it away. Boy, was that a hot place to be. You also had to make your way over other jiggly bales to get to where it would sit until it was fed out.
Supper was when all of the hay was in the barn. I learned the hard way not to make things that could not be kept warm until they finished. My daughter called me to let me know when they were on the last load. Whoever worked that day came to eat. My plan for supper was quite simple. I usually cooked something in the oven. If it was a big meal then I had a light dessert such as ice cream. If I made a lighter meal then I made a big dessert like pie or cake. At any rate those boys could certainly eat. As we sat and talked they usually emptied the relish tray and perhaps had a second piece of dessert.
We visited while we ate, but then there were still barn chores for the evening.
The kids who worked for us were dedicated. They did not mind the hard work. Each time there was hay they showed up. The muscles grew as the boys grew. Once that family graduated from high school they were done working for us — except in emergencies. Our two children helped but it took more bodies to put the hay in. Finding labor became a problem.
I believe modern machinery was developed to help farmers over the labor gap. The large bales that you now see on area farms made it possible for a farmer to bale his hay alone.
With the big bales came the need for other equipment. A spear to pick up the bales was needed. Along with this came the machine that wraps the bales. There are many types of wrap so watch the fields to see what area farmers are using.
This has created another problem. The wrap must be disposed of when the bale is used.
Is one method better than the other? That depends on the farm family.
Our Amish neighbors still do things the old way. They even use the old hay forks that were built into the barns. While we were out and about, my husband asked if we could watch some of them unload their loose hay. He knew that I had never seen the hay fork at work. Once we watched I understood the process better.
Around here the most a farmer can hope for is a second cutting. That comes after the hay has regrown in the field. Usually the quality is better, but the quantity is less on the second cut.
We only have a few operating farms in our area at this point but they will all be out there with their haying equipment as soon as possible. Let’s hope for some good weather for the haying to get done. It was a bonus if we were done by the 4th of July.
I was only part of the haying crew a few times. My allergies kept me away. When my father-in-law was no longer able to rake I had to drive tractor for my husband. I really enjoyed watching the birds that flew around the field while I was driving around. The most unsettling part was that my father-in-law was in his chair on the side of the field watching me drive. I was sure that I was not doing everything right.
I liked it much better when he felt good enough to be the one on the tractor. I miss those days.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at email@example.com.