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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 PDT

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

Taking a load to stack.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

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: Book Reviews

Art of Working Horses

Lynn Miller’s New Book: Art of Working Horses

Art of Working Horses, by Lynn R. Miller, follows on the heels of his other eight Work Horse Library titles. This book tells the inside story of how people today find success working horses and mules in harness, whether it be on farm fields, in the woods, or on the road. Over 500 photos and illustrations accompany an anecdote-rich text which makes a case for the future of true horsepower.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

Art of Working Horses Another Review

Art of Working Horses – Another Review

by:
from issue:

One could loosely say this is a “how-to” book but it is more of an “existential” how-to: how to get yourself into a way of thinking about the world of working horses. Maybe we need to explain what a working horse is. A working horse is one, in harness, given to a specific task. So, in that context, the book illustrates the many ways Miller has worked with his equine partners over the years – helping them understand what he wants them to do, as both work together to create relationships that help achieve desired goals.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

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.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Old Man Farming

Spinning Ladders

You die off by passing away. You live on by passing on. I want to pass the culture of my life on slowly, over the ripening time of my best years.

Retrofitting a Fireplace with a Woodstove

How to Retrofit a Fireplace with a Woodstove

Because the venting requirements for a wood stove are different than for a fireplace you need to retrofit a stainless steel chimney liner. A liner provides the draft necessary to ensure that the stove will operate safely and efficiently.

Basic Blacksmithing Techniques

Illustrated guide to basic blacksmithing techniques, an excerpt from Blacksmithing: Basics For The Homestead.

Plowing with the Single Horse

Plowing with the Single Horse

All other aspects being equal, the primary difference in plowing, comfortably, with a single horse is that the animal walks on unplowed ground immediately adjacent to the previous furrow, rather than in the furrow. This will cause the point of draft at the shoulder to be somewhat higher and will dictate hitching longer and/or higher than with the animal walking down 5 to 8 inches lower in the furrow.

Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing

Setting Up A Walking Plow

Here is a peek into the pages of Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing, written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.

Barbed Wire History and Varieties

Book Excerpt: The invention of barb wire was the most important event in the solution of the fence problem. The question of providing fencing material had become serious, even in the timbered portions of the country, while the great prairie region was almost wholly without resource, save the slow and expensive process of hedging. At this juncture came barb wire, which was at once seen to make a cheap, effective, and durable fence, rapidly built and easily moved.

Timing the Bounce

Timing the Bounce: Resilient Agriculture Meets Climate Change

by:
from issue:

In her new book, Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate, Laura Lengnick assumes a dispassionate, businesslike tone and sets about exploring the farming strategies of twenty-seven award-winning farmers in six regions of the continental United States. Her approach gets well past denial and business-as-usual, to see what can be done, which strategies are being tried, and how well they are working.

Honoring Our Teachers

Honoring Our Teachers

by:
from issue:

I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.

Stories of Ranch Life

Stories of Ranch Life

Throughout Thomas’ stories the reader will feel the importance of the human relationship to the land and animals, but also the value of family. “Lynn and I chose ranching because we wanted to raise cattle and horses, but soon discovered that a ranch is also the best place to raise children. Some of our kid’s first memories are of feeding cows. They went along with us as babies because mama had to drive the jeep.”

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

You are probably thinking why would I want to dry up a doe? If the plan is to rebreed the doe, then she will need time to rebuild her stamina. Milk production takes energy. Kid production takes energy, too. If the plan is to have a fresh goat in March, then toward the end of October start to dry her up. The first thing to do is cut back on her grain. Grain fuels milk production.

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Book Review – The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie: Working with horses is not something you can learn exclusively through watching DVD training videos and attending workshops and seminars. These things and experiences can be very useful as auxiliary aids to our training, but they cannot replace the value of a long-term relationship with a skilled mentor.

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

Art of Working Horses – A Review

by:
from issue:

Over 40 years Lynn Miller has written a whole library of valuable and indispensable books about the craft of working horses. He has helped beginners acquire the basics of harnessing and working around horses, and has led those further along to focus on the specific demands of plowing, mowing, haying and related subjects. But, in a fitting culmination, his latest book, The Art of Working Horses, raises its sights and openly ponders secrets at the heart of the work that may over time elevate it to an art.

Work Horse Handbook

Work Horse Handbook

Horses are honest creatures. And, what I mean by honest is that a horse is almost always true to his motivations, his needs, his perceptions: if he wants to eat, if he needs water, if he perceives danger. He is incapable of temporarily setting aside or subverting his motivations to get to some distant goal. This is often mistaken as evidence for a lack of intelligence, a conclusion which says more of human nature than equine smarts. What it means for the horse is that he is almost never lazy, sneaky or deceptive. It is simply not in his nature.

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