Haying With Horses

On the farms visible on our morning commute to the Small Farmer’s Journal offices, and on the farms of our own SFJ staff, the first cutting of hay is complete, and a second is unfurling in delicious green splendor. We thought it would be appropriate to share this short excerpt on hitching a team of draft animals to a No. 9 Mower. This piece is from the book Haying With Horses, written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.

“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. Check the neck yoke on the end of the tongue. If it is a slide type, tie it to the tongue with a piece of wire to keep it from falling off, should the horses step ahead before the traces are hooked. Or should the traces be hooked too long. Always hook the neckyoke FIRST, making sure it is holding the tongue up at the proper angle. (The breast straps should have been adjusted to the shortest length before hitching.)

Keep lines in hand all during the hitching process. Neckyoke fastened move back and start with the far right tug and hook trace chains, one tug after the other, until done. It is critical that tugs be tight enough that the neckyoke not slip off when horses step ahead. The proper length will allow a little slack in the trace when the animals step back or a little slack in the quarter straps when they are pulling the load. There is no need to be hooked so tight that the quarter straps rub the bellies when moving ahead. That is just another discomfort for your working partners. Once the proper length, or hitch point is found, remember it to save the time next hitching.

The hitch hardware on the tongue should be adjustable for height with two to four holes in the bracket. It is this author’s experience, contrary to prevalent thought, that the animals are best served if there is a slight lifting action when they pull ahead. If you are unable to move the bracket down, and thereby cause a lift, you can accomplish the same thing by fastening a block of wood to the bottom of the tongue between it and the evener shackle. This will cause the same lift. This will translate, in forward motion to little or no tongue weight for the animals and has no appreciable affect on draft.

Haying With HorsesWhen unhitching the team from the mower, take care to park in a level area so that the mower, when the traces are unhooked, doesn’t try to roll back causing problems at the front of the animals. Lower the cutter bar heel to the ground and, if its not already there, fasten the bar up ifor your own safety and convenience. ALWAYS unhook the traces before unhooking the neckyoke! Keep driving lines in hand. After traces are unhooked, move to the front of the team and unhook the neck yoke being careful not to let it fall on you or the animals (it’s heavy!).