Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style
Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Loose Hay… Southeast Kansas Style

by Josh Mitchell

“Yahoo! It works! It works!” We say as the first grab falls to the ground. Putting up loose hay had skipped three generations in our family. Granddad and G-Jean (my grandmother) can remember a few things about their dad’s putting up loose hay, but they didn’t get in the middle of actually making the hay as they were too young. Soon tractors and square balers took over and the art of making loose hay was lost in our family.

Granddad has retold several stories of how Great Grandpa Mitchell used to do things, even square baling most of the hay and then throwing loose hay over the pile to shed water since he didn’t have a barn to store all the hay. Great grandpa used to build a hay stack’s base, then about three feet up overhang the hay some before starting to slant the pile back up to the top. Many of the details of how this type of haying was done is lost to our family.

A little background of our family may be in order before jumping “whole hog” into the story so to speak. We live on the 120 acre farm great grandpa Mitchell bought back in 1955. Now our farm is what you’d probably call a small scale, simple, but modernized ol’ McDonald’s farm. We seem to have a little of a lot of things, but not much of any one thing.

Our workforce includes my grandparents who live across the drive while my sister and I currently live with our folks in great grandpa’s old farmstead house. Dad and Granddad work off farm while Mom and Jena are both in college. Mom does most of the computer work for me keeping up our farm website and much of the customer correspondence while Jena also has an off farm job which keeps her schedule running full. G-Jean (my grandma Mitchell) and I have spent many a day working together in our five acre CSA market garden or maybe separately in different areas of the garden.

In the past we’ve had all kinds of livestock, but over time have cut back so we wouldn’t have so much to keep up with since the CSA garden business has been growing. Within the past year and a half I purchased my first team of draft horses. Granddad has recounted many times how his dad was one of the last in this part of the country to let his team go since he enjoyed them so much. The love of horses was passed along to my Dad and now I’m afraid I’ve also been bit with the bug. I’m still very green on working horses, but thank the Lord for the many individuals whom I’ve been privileged to meet and learn from.

Back in the fall of 2008 Dad, Jena and I had the privilege of attending Kenny Russell’s Work Horse Work Shop. Most teamsters I know of in this part of the country don’t exactly have what I’d call a “natural” approach to the horses so having the opportunity to attend this more natural horse handling work shop was a way for us to see if our dreams were something that we’d like to pursue, or if getting some lines in our hands would show us that it wasn’t our cup of tea. During and after the workshop it was apparent that our dreams were something we’d like to make a reality.

Next we came up against the old decision of tractor power versus horse power. We finally came to the conclusion even though we’re inexperienced with the horses we could find advantages and disadvantages both ways until we were plum tuckered out!

When great grandpa’s old 1967 Ford 4000, 50hp tractor died we could no longer pull our recently purchased small square baler. We had leased this small square baler for a few years and liked it so well that we’d bought it. However, our newer little Kubota tractor could turn the baler just fine, but they ain’t building things now days like they used to and it didn’t have enough weight in the frame to keep the baler’s plunger from rocking and shaking things to pieces.

With a limited budget and time, rebuilding our Ford tractor’s engine wasn’t a feasible option, buying a new tractor was way beyond the pocket book and buying any used tractor in our price range would be like buying a pig in a poke! As we saw our options narrowing loose hay seemed to make more and more sense.

After doing some research we decided if at all possible it would benefit us greatly to spend the money on a loose hay loader. Thankfully the Lord helped us find and pick up a good nine bar at an auction early in the spring. With a loose hay loader in our possession we thought we were ready to make hay! Don’t kid yourself about what kind of shape those guys are who can hand unload a hay trailer with a pitch fork! Dad and I quickly discovered the hay loader made loading really nice, but after unloading two loads of hay we quickly discovered why the hay grapples were invented! Whew! No wonder guys like my great grandpa (who always hand loaded and unloaded his loose hay) could grab a 200 pound hog or calf and tell it where to go.

Back to the drawing board with haying season upon us and our market garden pushing full force as well Dad and I tried scratching our brains. For the physical condition we were in it was immediately apparent that in order to put up the 40 or so acres of hay our unloading procedures needed to change.

Dad and I are “packrats” and scavenge around for all kinds of “junk” that other folks are throwing away. Since we may not have an immediate use for our prizes they go down to what Mom used to call the “dump”. Over the years we’ve worked on the terminology and now can usually get by with calling it our “recycle pile”!

At some time we’d picked up an old hay grapple when attending an auction along with a little track since we’ve always wanted to try loose hay. However, none of our barns were suitable for loose hay so the grapples had just set in a corner doing nothing.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Dad and I poured through Lynn Miller’s book Haying With Horses and really liked the simplistic look of some of the simpler hay unloading equipment. Most of the fields we hay are so rough that we were afraid a buckrake or Jayhawk stacker would dig into the soil too bad and we have about ¼ mile of gravel road to travel from one of our neighbor’s fields that we hay. Pole or derrick type stackers looked appealing to us in our situation. Since many places on our farm have lime stone rock we thought it’d be nice to make a derrick stacker since there wouldn’t need to be any stakes driven and the design was simple.

Checking into the cost of sawn lumber nearly made us fall over in a faint and our search for a way to have our own custom lumber cut kept meeting dead ends. Since we’d already made numerous trips to the recycle pile Dad and I had a pretty good idea of the “inventory” we had on hand. Finally a spark hit the tinder and we came up with an idea.

There was a note on the derrick plans Dad found which said poles could be used instead of sawn lumber. Going back to our recycle pile we checked out a few of the electric poles that had been setting there for years. Yes, they were long enough for some parts although our planned boom pole was cracked enough we didn’t feel comfortable using it.

Next Dad and I headed out to the woods and checked our woodlot. This part of the country doesn’t have any of those beautiful tall straight pines so many people are blessed with. We do have a fair amount of wild pecans on the farm though and they grow halfway straight sometimes so we marked a few. We also looked for as many relatively straight hedge trees (also known as bois d’arc or Osage orange) as possible, but they are known for their crookedness and thorns! However hedge is best known in this part of the country for burning hot fire wood and its amazing strength and durability as posts. Many 60+ year old hedge post fences are still being used today.

After marking several trees we found enough to do the remainder of our derrick’s poles. Our farm is still mainly operated with power tools and the little Kubota tractor even though I want to implement the horses more and more into the work. This time since we were in a hurry (afraid we usually are) Dad and I took off with the chain saws and Kubota to fell the trees.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Once the trees were unloaded at our derrick construction site we stripped the bark. Talk about an interesting procedure. We tried the drawknife, but without very good results. Dad is really good at looking things up, improvising and finding ways to make things work. He found a hand tool that is used for stripping bark but they wanted a chunk of change for the tool and we didn’t have time to wait on it to be shipped so Dad and I used a couple of dibbles.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

One dibble Dad had made many years ago to plant sweet potato slips while the other we’d bought at an auction. Both had their place as one blade was made from straight iron and the other with an old car spring which had a little curve to it. Starting at one end we’d split the bark and slowly work our way along a log peeling the bark off in a sheet. It seemed the freshest cut wood usually peeled best. At that time temperatures were running near 100 degrees and after only a couple days the bark would start to dry and stick to the wood worse. Unfortunately the heat also started cracking the green wood some, but since the trees were a little oversize we weren’t too concerned.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Our derrick construction site was purposely located near a large hedge tree for two reasons. One, it was in the shade! Secondly we planned on using the tree as an anchor to help lift the derrick up in place. Unfortunately the ground around the tree was not very level so going to the recycle pile again we pulled out a couple 12”x12”x20’ ties. We shimmed the ties up to level with one another full length as close as possible so we’d have a good flat, level surface to start building from and made sure both ties were correctly spaced to support the derrick’s skids.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Finally after cutting off the worst of our 4 base log’s crooks and curves they were halfway straight. While they would have lasted much longer unfortunately we were unable to find any hedge logs that were both long and straight enough to use as skids so we made do with a couple electric poles.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Once the skids were in place we set all the cross beams on them. Our two center hedge cross beams took some special care and trimming to make sure they could be leveled and laid parallel in order to make a solid base for the vertical mast pole to rest on. When the cross beams were trimmed and set in place we drilled bolt holes to fasten each beam and skid together. Temporarily driving bolts in from the top as “place holders” after each hole was drilled we continued drilling all the holes. Next it was necessary to lift one skid up high enough to drive out one bolt at a time and in its place drive a carriage bolt up from the bottom. With the base fastened together we then had a long head scratching session and some trial and error before finding a way to erect the derrick base poles. Building our top derrick box (point “B” on plan) from hedge we slipped it over a mid-sized electric pole which was taller than the actual pole we were planning to use. Wedging the box in place with some 2” lumber we let it rest on a couple long bolts driven perpendicular to one another through the pole.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Carefully we eased our temporary pole to a vertical position with the Kubota’s loader bucket starting the lift and then guy cable, ratchet straps and a come-along fastened to the nearby large hedge tree taking over from there. Also, to prepare for the lift we’d set the pole’s base on our cross beams, built a temporary three sided box from 2×6” lumber and chained the pole’s base back to the outside cross beam to keep the bottom of the pole from sliding too far before it started up.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

With a vertical pole centered, leveled and held in place by three guy wires we had a place to line up our four brace poles. After some more trial and error we were finally able to set each of the four brace poles in place, one at a time, and cut their bottom angles then bolt that end in place. Clambering up to the box where all the base poles joined at the top of the derrick portion we carefully notched or trimmed if necessary and then bolted that brace pole in place. We made sure not to bolt one side of the box so it could be removed allowing us to let the temporary pole down and erect the correct mast pole and boom back up.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Once all four brace poles were bolted in place it was time to take out the bolts and blocks of wood which the box had been depending on for support before we’d bolted the four brace poles into it. After removing the one free side from our box we gently lowered the temporary mast.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

When the center was located with a plum line on our two central cross beams we leveled their tops so the base plate would lay flat. With pole barn spikes and lag bolts we proceeded to fasten the base plate to the top of the center beams making sure to have enough notched below the center hole to accommodate the iron bar that would be protruding 2” down through the iron plate.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

We had already drilled and tapped a hole in the base plate about half way out from the estimated center of where the mast pole was going to be. Marking out a circle the same diameter as the tapped hole, Dad cut a groove in the base plate. Screwing a street L in place and then using one pipe nipple to extend out past where the base braces would be a collar and grease fitting finished our conglomeration. This was a Mitchell modification to give us a way to grease the main pivot point of the entire derrick and have channel for the grease to flow through so there would be good uniform coverage. The original plan didn’t have a grease fitting.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Bolting three of the “X” braces in place (leaving the fourth side open to erect the mast pole) solidified everything considerably. We also bolted in the four base 2×6” boards running from the outside corners to the central base plate which the mast pole would rest on. These boards helped keep the base square. Readying everything we hooked onto the base of the derrick with Kubota and gently eased it off the beams we’d leveled and used for a base. As the derrick’s skids eased off the beams we chamfered each end so they wouldn’t dig in while skidding. So far so good and it was a lot of fun to see the short part of the derrick move as one unit!

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Dad mixed up a couple loads of concrete in a wheel borrow and poured our counter weight. This real fancy counter weight is comprised of a large PVC pipe used as a form and one heavy duty log chain fragment with a hefty clevis to fasten this counter weight to the main derrick beam. Not pretty or fancy, but it works.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Because the electric pole we’d planned to use as the derrick’s arm beam had a big crack in it we decided we’d prefer not taking any chances with it. No one in this part of the country saws 26’ lumber so we had another head scratching session (there’s a lot of that around here) and decided to try laminating four treated 2×6’s together. Using 14 and 16’ boards we cut two 16-footers into 12’ and 4’ so our joints would be staggered and miss our eye bolt holes. We also bought some 10” galvanized flashing and split it in half then rented an air nailer to help speed up the project.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Backing two 16’ utility trailers up back to back we leveled them as close as we could and then shimmed the first 2×6’s so everything would be as flat as possible. Laying the second set of 2×6’s on top of the first ones we temporarily screwed them together. These boards were the center two where our eyebolts would be. With one of us drilling down through the crack while the other tried to make sure we were drilling straight Dad and I drilled the three holes for our eye bolts.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

It was now time to unscrew both boards and place the 5” flashing on top of our bottom board. With bolts we carefully smashed the flashing partway into the half a hole in the bottom board so the flashing would follow the contour of each hole. Placing the top board on completed the sandwich and we smacked the boards with a hammer to firmly seat the flashing into the hole. We then stood on the bolt for good measure to make sure we could slide the eye bolts in and out since we didn’t have them yet.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Several of our bolts were on back order for three plus weeks since we’d had our local hardware store special order hot dipped galvanized bolts. Up to this point we’d been using bolts from our recycle pile once again…they were old galvanized electric pole bolts we’d picked up at yet another auction. Can you tell we enjoy going to auctions? No, we don’t go very often, but some of this “junk” (recyclable material) had been lying around the farm for nearly 10 years!

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Once the flashing was firmly seated in each eyebolt hole Dad and I let the air nailer rip and poured nails into first one side then the other. With another layer of flashing laid over our two boards we placed a set of boards on top and poured more nails into the wood. Flipping the beam over we repeated this process and then hand drove 5” ring shank pole barn spikes every foot to foot and a half in both sides. That completed our main arm beam.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

We cut our oversized mast pole to length then taking an old expansion bit I drilled a 1-7/8” hole into the bottom of the mast pole as far as my bit would allow. I then welded an extension onto this bit so we could drill a full 12” into the pole and proceed to drive an iron bar into the hole. This plan calls for a 1-1/2” iron bar, but we had a 1-7/8” in our inventory so decided not to buy one.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Next we chamfered the mast pole’s end enough to coax an undersized iron pipe to be driven onto the pole’s base to keep it from splitting out. It was necessary to take a hacksaw and cut the splinters from around the outside of the pipe once we’d finally beat it up in place. Nailing a piece of plate steel onto the mast pole’s bottom completed this assembly.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

With some careful cutting we notched the derrick’s top supporting box to accommodate a steel box wear plate inside of it. This notching process took a while! About this time our friend Ben and his wife and baby son came down for a visit. Like true friends we put him right to work and he helped us cut out a section of an oversized pipe (couldn’t get the right size) and cold bend shrink it nearly an inch in diameter! It did fit snugger over the pole though. We then nailed the shrunk iron pipe band in place so it would match up with the iron box wear plate up top of the derrick when our mast pole was erected. We also slipped the iron box wear plate that would fit in the derrick’s notched wood supporting box over the pole since we had it welded together and didn’t want to weld the fourth side into the box 12’ up in the air!

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

It was finally time to bolt the main arm beam to the mast. With some careful measuring we lined up the beam’s angle and cut the mast pole’s top accordingly. After getting everything lined up we started drilling bolt holes and then fastened both pieces together. We were unsure how this main arm beam would work out because it wasn’t what the directions called for. Extending ears of plate steel up from where the pole and beam were fastened together we welded an additional piece of plate steel and hefty homemade eye bolt on top of the beam.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Because the hardware store bolts were on backorder so long Granddad and I got permission from our local electric company to raid their stash of old, broken electric poles and swipe all the hardware off of them we wanted! Wow, what a find! We utilized some eye bolts we found and a couple of the guy cable blocks. We drove an eye bolt up from the bottom of the beam into each hole we’d drilled. Using pieces of plate steel as big washers on the top and bottom a guy cable block was slipped over the eye bolt’s threaded end and tightened down. This allowed us to run a cable (not in the derrick’s blue print) from one end of the beam up through the welded-on, heavy duty, homemade eye bolt located right above the mast pole to the opposite end of the beam. We hoped this added cable would strengthen the beam if there were any beam weaknesses we hadn’t counted on.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Next we fastened all our braces running from the mast pole up to the arm beam. On all the 2×6” braces we added to them (more than what our plan showed) by cutting 2×6’s to fit between each set of boards to hopefully prevent them from warping too much. We used one of our nicest and straightest pecan poles as the main arm brace and notched it into the arm slightly to keep it in place and help its bolt hold better.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

It was nearly time to stand the boom up! Kubota lifted the mast pole base high enough we could roll the butt end of a sawn off brace pole beneath it. Gently pushing what would be the top of the mast we were able to slide/role the mast up over the derrick’s base to center over its base plate. We ran a log chain from one near corner of the derrick around the pole’s base pin back to the other near derrick corner so the pole wouldn’t slide further, past our base plate hole.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Attaching our boom pulley where it belonged we then threaded our rope through it, around an inline pulley and attached one end of our rope to the boom’s end eyebolt. From then on things were a little ticklish for a while. Most of the derrick was built in the evenings when Dad came home from work and we’d both fly into it. Since our daylight was limited we had to do the lifting process in a couple stages as daylight allowed.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Wanting to make the lift as easy as possible we decided to cheat a little and used the boom’s 2:1 ratio block and tackle to help lift itself. We blocked up two of our square bale/grain elevators and attached the running inline pulley there. Our rope’s free end was then tied to Granddad’s pick up truck. We were concerned side loading the boom as we rotated it up 90 degrees would cause some severe stress on it. Thankfully as the truck pulled up Kubota could assist by supporting the boom from beneath for most of the lift and the boom came out just fine. However, we were out of daylight for that evening and had to finish standing it up the following day, which was Saturday and Dad’s day off.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

With guy ropes and ratchet straps running three places it was finally time to stand up the entire mast. Even what most folks would call a “junk truck” was recycled at that time by us using it for guy anchor point! Attaching the counter weight to its eyebolt which was still at ground level we slipped the loader bucket beneath both the counter weight and boom in order to slowly assist the lift as Granddad’s truck pulled. Suspense rippled through the air as we carefully inched the mast up, manually relieving tension on the guy ropes as the mast reached higher and higher in the sky. Finally it was nearly vertical and we breathed a slight sigh of relief.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Just a fraction of the main base pin off from the hole we jiggled and wiggled our log chain free from around it. A small amount of prying sent the pin and entire mast plummeting two inches down into the base plate hole. Laugh all you want, two inches can seem like quite a ways when dealing with massive objects dropping near you! G-Jean was there and she whooped great big as the mast fell into place!

As each piece came together we were one step closer to solidifying the mast in place and tensions lessoned. Setting the top derrick box’s fourth side up was not too bad, but getting the predrilled holes to line up was a challenge since things had warped a little. With some pulling and prying we finally could bolt it all together and slid the iron box wear plate into the derrick’s wooden box. All the time spent pre-cutting and fitting was now paying off. A few minutes later Dad greased up the base plate for the first time and we used one of the guy ropes to test how well the boom would spin. Wow! You could rotate that entire boom with one hand if you wanted! What fun to see all our hard work actually falling into place!

When we were so near completed the previous day we’d taken a chance and mowed a section of hay. Once the derrick was finished in the mid afternoon we raked the hay and tried out the loose hay loader. All of us were thankful the equipment was working well. A load of hay was brought back home and we tried skidding the derrick into place. Whew! The oversized logs we had used to make sure it was strong enough certainly made that thing heavy! Kubota couldn’t pull it by itself! We had to hook both the Kubota and another vehicle up to move it! We have since found if we jack up the skids enough to lay pipe beneath them the Kubota can pull the derrick just fine.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

With derrick and hay trailer in place it was time to test it out. Anticipation electrified the air as I set the grapples and up went the first load of hay. We now know that was a very small grab, but since we’d never seen anything like it before it looked fair sized to us! Dad swung the grab over and we tripped the rope. Whoopee!!! It worked!

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

After our first season’s haying experience we’ve made a few observations. If possible it would be nice to find a derrick design which would allow the boom to extend on out another four feet or so. It would make stacking easier. Currently we have a rope attached to the grapple so we can swing it out past where the grapples would naturally drop the load. Our first stack we made with the derrick was small and we had a lot of difficulty topping it out. However, on our largest stack we discovered you certainly don’t want to pull too hard and make your base too wide as the higher you get the harder it is to get the load over far enough!

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

We experimented with making ongoing stacks with the derrick by making one comfortable length (long, but narrower) stack for the derrick’s reach and then sliding it down a little to make another stack butted and formed as much as possible into the first stack. I was usually stack master while Dad was grab master and Granddad and G-Jean took turns driving the Kubota to run the grapples. There were varying results in my attempt to join the stacks and I discovered making 90 degree corners with the stacks was even trickier. Granddad and G-Jean would give us a few pointers as they thought of observations they’d made as kids, but there’s nothing quite like experience. Our learning curve is still really steep! I never did learn the art of making an overhang and then slanting in to the top like great grandpa Mitchell stacked hay.

I was in too big of a hurry on many of the stacks and probably didn’t tromp them down like I should have so they aren’t really pretty or high quality. We were running about three to four months late though and several days Granddad or G-Jean and I were the only ones unloading or loading the trailers until Dad got home. There’s a lot of ladder climbing having to get up and down both the trailer load and stack of hay and guess I was just too lazy to climb up and arrange every grapple full of hay on the stack. It’s much easier when there’s three people operating the unloading process!

Thankfully our first haystacks survived a reported 50-70 mph gusting winds and rain that blew through one night. I personally didn’t go out to the anemometer in the garden to see, but do know the wind was howling in that thunderstorm! Lord willing they’ll all weather ok until the hay is fed.

Also I’m hoping that by the next time we’re haying I can have the horses in good enough mental and physical shape they can help rather than snicker across the fence at the orange ponies doing all their work!

Having put up round bales, small square bales and now loose hay we can see advantages and disadvantages to each. Overall round bales have a “thumbs down” on our farm unless they’re for garden mulching. Round bales have a lot of wastage around the outside of each bale and the hay quality isn’t all that great usually. You can put up hay much faster with round bales though and leave them out in the field if necessary when a chance rain shower comes through. It’s also possible for one person to do all the haying relatively easy.

Square bales have the advantage of being easy to feed and transport in convenient “packages” and the hay quality can be kept much better than round bales if stored under cover. Of course round bales can be stored under cover too, but they don’t stack as efficiently. Square balers are also lower maintenance than round balers in our experience. However you can usually bale a little greener with round rather than square balers.

Loose Hay Southeast Kansas Style

Loose hay has a lot going for it as you can stack it inside or out. I hear if stacked properly there shouldn’t be much loss even when stacked outside… we’re getting ready to find out if I stacked our correctly or not! Higher quality hay can usually be put up with loose hay. Also, even when the hay may be a little tough for square baling you can put it up loose. G-Jean could also help us unload the loose hay this year, while she can’t help us unload square bales so that was a real blessing too. Our biggest challenge that we’re about ready to deal with is feeding the loose hay. In our operation it seems like actually feeding the loose hay may be much more challenging than with square bales.

I’d like to say a special thanks to many folk for their encouragement, help and advice in starting down this adventuresome path of loose hay and working with horses. There are far too many to name, but a few are: Kenny and Renee Russell who helped get us started by providing a workshop opportunity to get a taste of working horses and the feel of lines in our hand. Jim Butcher was an instructor at the workshop as well and passed along a lot of good information. Lynn Miller has written and compiled so many helpful books and provides a wonderful publication such as this Small Farmer’s Journal you’re reading now. Eric and Anne Nordell have been great mentors in the market garden and life helps. I’m still in a steep learning curve in those areas as well! Several individuals in both Mennonite and Amish communities in Dennis, Bartlett and Oswego, Kansas as well as Rich Hill, Missouri have been a blessing in passing along some of their knowledge to us. There are a host of other folks I could thank for passing along information, knowledge and experience however, they are far too many to mention. So a big thanks to each one!

May you have a great haying season next year whether you’re round baling, square baling or putting hay up loose!