For farmers and ranchers across the country, this is the season for gathering and stacking hay (also reaching for antihistamine and muscle rub). When we first bought this farm, with good grass pastures, one of our first needs was haying equipment. Those were the years of going to farm auctions. We needed cutter, rake and baler. We could have had swather and automatic loader for the bales, but we were in this as economically as possible and our equipment showed it. Since we bought it mostly nearly 30 years ago and it was old then, it would probably qualify for being antiques now-- like us.
My husband had worked on hay fields when he was in high school; so he knew how to do the work; but even with that, it's different when you are responsible for it all and have to look to the sky for guessing if you have enough time to cut a field, get the hay cured and baled before the next rainstorm.
If hay is baled wet, it will be ruined by either mold which can cause cows to abort if they eat it at the wrong time or more damaging yet, heat building up to the extent of a fire that can cost a barn.
One rainstorm, if it isn't too heavy and doesn't last too long will not kill you, longer wet spells will. One year, to our great upset, we lost a whole field of bales. If you think it's hard work stacking them when it's to go into a barn, it's a whole lot more when you have to get them off the field and they are garbage.
We now have too many animals to get hay from these fields; so purchase it elsewhere. That's where the hay fever comes in. A lot of hay is contracted for before it's cut. Other countries buy hay as well as bigger growers. So for the little guy, it's calling who you got it from last year,watching for handmade signs alongside the road, and checking out the quality of their bales to see if the cows will like it. Most hay we purchase today comes in thousand pound bales which are either round or rectangular. It's a big business and the equipment a lot more complex than back when it was all about twine, 80 lb bales, having a good trailer, and stacking in a barn.
Having hay crews here was fun back when we were cutting a lot of hay. It was usually our own teen-agers as well as local boys. Sometimes some of our daughter's town guy pals would come out to earn some extra money. That could be funny as they found themselves unable to handle the big bales she was lifting.
Secret: hay handling is about leverage, not just muscle. It's using legs as well as arms-- with one exception-- a 17 year old boy in the full glory of his youth, who can throw the bales 4 rows high.
One hot summer, while making lunch for a hay crew with quite a few kids working here, I was doing a lot of food prep and in particular jugs of lemonade and ended up not rinsing one out thoroughly from the soap. You can only imagine the shock and yelps of dismay from those boys as they spit out the drink. It wasn't quite foaming but almost. When I run across one of those guys now in their late 30s or early 40s, if the conversation turns to haying, they still remind me of that.
These photos are from 2000. The crew that year was just me, our Astro at the time (which thought it was a farm vehicle because it was used as one), and the guy the neighbors call the boss. I don't call him, that, but I do admit he orders me around as soon as we are out doing a farm job.