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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PST

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4
Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

Taking a load to stack.

by William Castle of Shropshire, UK

Getting It In

Over the last few years of making hay, the mowing, turning and making tripods has settled into a fairly comfortable pattern, but the process of getting it all together for the winter is still developing.

In the beginning I did what everyone else around here does and got it baled, sometimes by a contractor or a neighbour, and sometimes I borrowed a tractor and baler. In some ways I liked having someone else to do this job because it took the pressure off doing it myself, especially if you are worried about someone else’s baler breaking down, but being reliant on someone else who probably wants to bale their own hay does add a further stress to getting the hay in. With hay made on tripods this urgency was not there, because the hay would not spoil on the tripod, and I could often bale when no-one else was baling, driving the baler from tripod to tripod and forking the hay into the pick-up reel.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

My wife Liz driving Molly as a three year old, gathering bales.

Bales do obviously have some advantages, putting the hay into useful sized lumps which are easy to handle, load and stack, but they also have disadvantages. Besides the cost of baling and not being able to guarantee access to a baler when I wanted it, the Dutch barn I rented was over a mile away, so clearing the field with a horse was slow. For a few years I thought about stacking loose hay, but when all of my hay was on the ground in the midst of haymaking I chose the easy way out and continued putting it all into bales. My reticence was mostly fear of the unknown, having never had the opportunity to be present when a hay stack was being built, but one year I decided to try one small stack, following the instructions in Lynn Miller’s book ‘Haying with Horses’.

The success of this first stack encouraged me to do more, and now most of my hay is stacked loose. The stacks are not usually very big as it is rare for me to have more than an acre or two ready at the same time. When all the hay is forked onto the stack with pitch forks the small stack has some advantages, especially when relying on my children or other inexperienced people to fork the hay, but the smaller stack does have a greater surface area exposed to the weather compared with a larger stack. Another disadvantage of very small stacks is that they can easily become unstable. I now think that 10 feet is the absolute minimum diameter, because otherwise when the stack gets up a bit it is like standing on a jelly, and I have had the top of a small stack slide off, taking me with it. This is most disheartening, not to say potentially dangerous, and a good reason never to leave forks, ladders, bricks etc. around the bottom of a stack. If I was going to make a stack smaller than 10 feet in diameter, I would now probably build it around a post.

With only five or six years’ experience I am far from being an expert stacker, but for anyone with less experience, this is how I do it. For the base I usually use pallets and bits of wood to keep the bottom away from the damp ground. Then I first put some hay in the middle, walking round and round in a circle working towards the outside, making sure the outside forms a good round circle. At this stage the person on the load needs to curtail their enthusiasm to fork the hay down quickly, so the stacker has time to make the base of the stack solid and round. Then as the stack goes up, as Lynn describes, it is essential to make a good solid wall round the outside. I always put the hay down in big forkfuls and then stand on the lump I have just stacked. This compresses the hay and you can feel how solid it is under your feet. If I have one of the children forking small forkfuls, I put a few together before putting them in place and walking forward a pace. At the same time as keeping the walls solid it is also important to keep the centre high, so that any rain will run outwards. If you are getting stacker loads landing on the middle of the stack, the centre probably gets compressed enough and looks after itself, but in my case I need to walk round the middle, stacking forkfuls in place ahead of me to avoid the centre becoming slack, so it does not sink lower than the outside as the hay settles. When stacking the outside it is tempting to bring the sides in rather than keeping them vertical, especially on the side furthest from the load on a bigger stack or when you are working alone and having to reach for the hay. To help keep the sides upright next year I am going to put four posts in the ground to give me a guide. On all except the smallest stacks it is an advantage to have someone else on the stack to put the hay beside you so you only need to rotate each forkful a quarter turn round your body, allowing you to concentrate on the stack rather than reaching for the hay. Keeping the centre high is perhaps harder with a helper, as they compress the hay where they are standing, so it is a good practice to send them to stand quietly at the edge for a minute or two while you put an extra forkful where they were standing and then stack more in the centre to keep it high. When I get down off the stack to get another load, I usually walk round the stack to see how even and round it is. If it sticks out beyond the circle in one place, raking a bit out of the sides with a fork can help, but if there is not enough anywhere, you can’t add hay to gain width.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

Small stack in midwinter, half having been cut with a hay knife.

Once you are ready to draw in the sides to form the roof, keeping the circle even is perhaps more important, as it is at this point where any slackness in the build will allow water to penetrate. The greater mistake is to bring in the sides too quickly, because as the hay settles, the extra weight in the middle tends to push the centre down so the top becomes flatter. This is why in each course [layer] the centre should now be kept even higher relative to the edges. Continuing to work in circles, your helper will eventually not have enough room to stand, so should get down off the stack. As the top is reached only three or four forkfuls will complete the course. This is when the person on the load needs to slow down again and you still need to place the forkfuls carefully, one big well-made forkful completing the very top. A ladder carefully leant up against the stack is then essential, even on a small stack, not only because you might land on something if you were to slide down, but in the process you can unbalance the stack.

Once the stack is complete, I usually rake down the sides with a fork to tidy any loose bits, then throw two ropes over the top and tie a brick at each end. This prevents the top getting blown off in the first few weeks until the hay settles. Once the top has knitted together, if the stack has been built correctly the rain is shed off the top with only a minimum of wastage. Even with a small stack this wastage need be no more than 5%, and sometimes, depending on the year and what you are feeding you might be able to feed it all. For me, the time spent stacking loose hay in the field is almost saved by not having to take bales a mile away to the barn, and having the stack in the field where the hay will be fed saves more time in winter.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

The Bamfords No. 6 hayloader behind a flatbed wagon with ropes down each side.

Gathering loose hay with a single horse, however, is significantly slower than collecting bales. When I make hay on tripods, because the hay has already been gathered together, forking hay onto the flat bed wagon is fairly straightforward, as the hay has settled on the tripods so is easy to fork off in good sized forkfuls. With cocks, the hay has also settled so is easy to fork onto a load, but both these methods require an additional stage of hand work compared with gathering hay from the swath. To speed up loading I have used a hay loader, but found that although one horse can pull it, it is too much to pull slowly enough for the comfort of man and horse. I do sometimes use it behind a tractor, with hay ladders at each end of the vehicle, and because the wagon is narrow, three ropes tied end to end along on each side.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

The buckrake ready to gather hay.

Still on the search for a better way to gather hay with one horse, after rereading Ken Giles’ article on his trailed offset buckrake for a single horse [SFJ Winter 04] I decided to try making one. My buckrake is similar to his, but having studied the different American two horse buckrakes where the pull from the horses lifts the basket, I wondered if I could incorporate a lifting mechanism on a single horse machine. Looking at pictures in past SFJs, I decided to use two features from some horse drawn big bale movers, a braked axle and a sliding drawbar to lift the basket. The drawbar on my buckrake is a square tube which slides inside another square tube. When the rake is down in the gathering position, the drawbar is in its shortest position, held in place by a spring loaded catch. Once the basket is full, I stop the horse, pull a lever which lifts this catch and put my left foot on the brake pedal to keep the buckrake still. I then make the horse go forward and as the hitch cart goes forward, the drawbar is drawn forward inside the bigger tube. The rear of the drawbar is connected to a lever, and as this lever is pulled forwards, the other end of the lever which is connected to the top of the basket is pulled backwards, so lifting the basket. Once the rear of the drawbar reaches the end of its travel, another spring loaded catch holds it in place, keeping the basket in the raised position. As I hear this catch click into position, I take my foot off the brake pedal and we head for the stack.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

The spring catch on the buckrake drawbar.

To lower the basket, I stop the horse, put my left foot on the brake pedal, my right foot on the pedal to release the rear catch and back the horse a step. The drawbar then slides back, and the front catch clicks into position again. Continuing to back up with the brake off, the hay slides off the basket. When using the buckrake, the hitch cart shafts are offset to one side as when tedding hay, so the horse and hitch cart are not running over any hay and the drawbar of the buckrake is directly behind the horse. An improvement would be to have a pair of wheels and shafts rather than the hitch cart. Of all my attempts at metal fabrication, this mechanism probably gives me the greatest satisfaction, because it works pretty well, but there are some important downsides of the buckrake. First of all, it isn’t very quick taking relatively small amounts of hay to the stack and there also is a lot of backing and messing about for the horse when gathering hay, because after a while the hay starts to ball up and roll under the tines, so you have to back up and gather some more and have this happen again before going to pick up both lumps and taking them to the stack. Also if the ground is uneven the tines can dig into the ground, though up to now I have been quick enough to stop before a tine has broken. Once I get to the stack, the hay is obviously left on the ground, so without any mechanical stacker it all needs to be forked up to the height of the stack, whereas on a wagon it is already part of the way up.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

The back of the buckrake. The diagonal piece of steel pivots in the middle, and pulls the basket backwards as the other end which is attached to the sliding drawbar is drawn forward. The catch which holds the drawbar in place bends up at the front to form the foot pedal.

The gathering of hay at the moment is the weak part of my system, and most years I use a mixture of methods. When I use tripods, forking the hay onto the vehicle and stacking it loose is the obvious next step, but when the hay is in the windrow the rest of the family prefer bales rather than borrowing a tractor and using the hay loader. The situation is soon set to change, as I intend to put up a barn with a hay track, though I will have to get the trolley from the States as they weren’t used in Britain. As to a better method of picking up the hay, after visiting the European equivalent of Horse Progress Days in Germany three years ago and seeing the Poettinger self loading forage wagon which had been converted to ground drive, I am wondering about making a similar machine using a pick up reel from a baler, but that will perhaps be a story for another time.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

by:
from issue:

In the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild. “Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked. “Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm. We assembled the ingredients on the table. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

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Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

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From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 4

Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

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Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Russian Dacha Gardening

Russian Dacha Gardens

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Russian household agriculture – dacha gardening – is likely the most extensive system of successful food production of any industrialized nation. This shows that highly decentralized, small-scale food production is not only possible, but practical on a national scale and in a geographically large and diverse country with a challenging climate for growing. Most of the USA has far more than the 110 days average growing season that Russia has.

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

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“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions: Going Single

Going single did not occur to us until we began receiving questions from prospective teamsters who felt it would be more manageable and economical to get started with a single horse than a team. After 29 years of market gardening with two or more horses, our impetus to try out one-horse farming was not a question of management or economy, but due to the radically diverging horse temperaments on our farm.

Prosperous Homesteading

Prosperous Homesteading

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LittleField Notes Seed Irony

LittleField Notes: Seed Irony

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They say to preserve them properly, seeds should be kept in a cool, dark place in a sealed, dry container. Yet the circumstances under which seeds in a natural environment store themselves (so to speak) seem so far from ideal, that it’s a wonder plants manage to reproduce at all. But any gardener knows that plants not only manage to reproduce, they excel at it. Who hasn’t thrown a giant squash into the compost heap in the fall only to see some mystery squash growing there the next summer?

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

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from issue:

Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

Cultivating Questions Cultivator Setups and Deer Fencing

Cultivating Questions: Cultivator Set-ups and Deer Fencing

We know all too well the frustration of putting your heart and soul into a crop only to have the wildlife consume it before you can get it harvested let alone to market. Our farm sits next to several thousand acres of state game lands and is the only produce operation in the area. As you can imagine, deer pressure can be intense. Neighbors have counted herds of 20 or more in our pastures.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

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The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

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Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Mayfield Farm

Mayfield Farm, New South Wales, Australia

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from issue:

Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.

Littlefield Notes Fall 2012

Littlefield Notes: Fall 2012

by:
from issue:

Why horses? We are knee deep in threshing oats and rye when I find after lunch that the tractor won’t start. Press the ignition switch — nothing; not even a click. I cancel the day’s threshing and drive thirty miles to the tractor store and pick up a genuine-after-market IH part. Come home, put in the new ignition switch and still nothing. When we need the horses they start right up, without complaint — every time.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT