Recalling the hardship of haying

Anyone who says hay has value is nuts. It is an evil thing. I recently had to sit through a daylong meeting in Olds, Alta. where everyone was talking about the great value of forages in general, including hay. They even came up with some fantastic number, claiming that hay and grass is worth about $2.5 billion annually to the Alberta economy. Yeah, right!

As a kid in the 1960s I wouldn’t have given you two cents for a bale of hay. Considering my allowance at the time was $5 per week, even that two cents was a lot of money.

Hay has never been a good memory in my life. It meant work. For a kid growing up in eastern Ontario, haying was hot, muggy, sweaty, dusty, dirty work. I use to dread summer holidays. I loved school. That’s why I excelled as a straight “C” student my whole life.

Getting out of school at the end of June meant going home and straight into the haying season. And that would continue right through until school resumed in September. We’d probably be done with hay sometime in August, but then we would move into combining oats and that meant baling straw — it never ended.

As I recall, we put up about 10,000 acres of hay in those days. Not sure how that worked since my dad’s farm was only 250 acres in size. He used to figure that after crop and pastureland there were about 100 acres of hay, but I think he was missing some decimal points. It was a lot.

High technology

I remember starting into a couple of whopper 10 acre fields with an eight-foot mower and thinking “this will never get done.” When I first came on the field-work scene, we used a small-round bale Allis-Chalmers baler. Later Dad upgraded to New Holland square baler. I guess that was better.

The baler would drop the bales in the field, then we’d come along later and load a wagon, then to the barn, unload them onto an elevator up into the mow. One or two people had to be in the mow to stack bales there. And many of those were 80 F — hot, humid days. The temperature inside the barn was about 4,000 degrees. I always dreamed of better things to do.

One year my dad bought a bale thrower to attach to the baler. This saved the step of loading the wagons in the field, but then we had to deal with this packed rat’s nest of hay bales inside this racked wagon. That great invention didn’t last long.

Then he went to the sleigh-style bale stooker pulled behind the baler. Someone had to ride the stooker and place six bales in a pyramid fashion, trip that load and make a new one. That saved a bit of time since you didn’t have to stop and pick up individual bales, but you still had to reload the wagon. And these little stooks were always a good place for mice and snakes to hide. I didn’t like that.

Then, once we got the hay in the barn, we spent all winter dragging it out one bale at a time to feed dairy cows. Who knew they ate so much? I had to do most of this work. As I recall, pretty well everyone just sat around.

A souvenir

About the only souvenir I kept of the haying days was the bale hook I always used. If I had to move bales, it was my favourite tool. It looks homemade to me. It was there in the barn when I first got into the haying business and I suspect it was around a few years before that. It has seen a lot of duty.

This bale hook has been on top of the cabinet in my office for many years. I wish I knew someone with small, square, hay bales. Although I’m not sure if I’m inclined to put it to a real big test. It would be interesting to see if the hook still works.

The only reason I kept it is to ensure that it was safely out of the way, so no evil farmer would find it and make some other poor little kid throw hay bales. I did it for the good of society. †

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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